FOR WEEKS, rational people pleaded with Florida pastor Terry Jones not to go ahead with plans to burn Qurans on the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Jones got the message; Derek Fenton of Bloomingdale, a NJ Transit worker, did not. Burning any religion’s holy books is an abhorrent act. While we strongly condemned Jones’ planned actions in Florida, we also noted that the First Amendment protected the right to say and do many things many Americans dislike and loathe. Burning the American flag is constitutionally protected. Building a mosque and cultural center two blocks north of Ground Zero is constitutionally protected. And whether we approve – and we most certainly do not – burning pages of the Quran outside the site of that proposed mosque also is protected speech. Fenton burned pages from the Quran on Saturday. He was led away by police and questioned. He later was released and not charged. He subsequently was fired by NJ Transit. An agency statement said: “Mr. Fenton’s public actions violated New Jersey Transit’s code of ethics.” We made several attempts to reach NJ Transit to hear a detailed explanation of what that code was and how it applied to an employee who is not in a leadership position and does not make policy. E-mails and phone calls were not returned. We do not see how an NJ Transit employee whose job is reportedly to ensure that sufficient train cars are available to be put into service is in a policy position. Whatever he does on his own time, assuming he does not break any laws and is not identifying himself as an NJ Transit employee, is his own business. NJ Transit has every right to be unhappy that one of its employees decided to burn pages from the Quran. It should have issued a strong statement saying just that and emphasizing that the opinions of its employees are not the opinions of the agency. Fenton’s actions are deplorable. They should be condemned. But Fenton is not in a policy position; he is not a public face of the agency either. Unless he was wearing NJ Transit apparel or clearly indicating that he was an NJ Transit employee while burning pages from the Quran, we see his firing as a disturbing knee-jerk response. We would hope that every American exercises his or her First Amendment rights responsibly. Burning a Quran near Ground Zero is irresponsible. Fenton should have known that his actions would be covered by the media, could be used as propaganda by terrorists who want to foment anti-American hostilities across the globe, and could very well endanger the lives of U.S. troops abroad. We cannot condemn his actions with greater fervor. But we cannot selectively choose who has cover under the umbrella of the First Amendment. Like it or not, the First Amendment protects everyone — even Derek Fenton.
GAINESVILLE, FLORIDA (BNO NEWS) — A Florida pastor on late Thursday afternoon agreed to cancel his scheduled “International Burn A Koran Day” on Saturday to meet with the Imam who wants to build a mosque near Ground Zero.
Pastor Terry Jones made the announcement in front of his church in Gainesville, saying he spoke with the organization of a planned Islamic Center near Ground Zero in New York City. He said he would meet with Feisal Abdul Rauf, the leader behind the mosque, on Saturday.
Although Jones claimed that Rauf had agreed to move his mosque, Rauf quickly denied that, according to NBC News.