Pastor’s Quran-Burning Event Rankles Polk Officials, Residents

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Pastor’s Quran-Burning Event Rankles Polk Officials, Residents

Mike Ghouse talks last month about his plans to move the World Muslim Congress to Mulberry for its Unity Day ceremony on Sept. 11 from Dallas to stand in contrast to a Florida minister’s burning of the Quran. With him are locals Curtis Rahman, from second left, Suzanne Carter-Moore and Lynne Weatherholts Broom, who came to show support for the Unity Day Ceremony.


Published: Tuesday, September 10, 2013 at 12:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, September 11, 2013 at 2:18 a.m.
MULBERRY | Since announcing his plans two months ago to burn 2,998 Qurans near Mulberry to honor Sept. 11, Florida pastor Terry Jones has unleashed his own Ground Zero for that city and Polk County.
Residents wish he would just go away.
At Loyce E. Harpe Park, where the burning is supposed to take place at 5 p.m. today, young athletes are missing their practices because their coaches are concerned that trouble could erupt.
In Mulberry, Mayor George Hatch is angry.
“I just wish the world would realize this is one man, and these are not the feelings of this community,” he said. “I’m angry at him for bringing that negative limelight to our city. We think we have a great little city, and this man is bringing ugliness to it.”
Melony Bell, chairwoman of the Polk County Commission, shared Hatch’s sentiments.
“I wish it wasn’t in our county because it has brought us negative attention,” she said, “but we have to respect his right to express himself.”
County officials announced late Tuesday that they were denying Jones’ application to use the park along Carter Road on Mulberry’s north side. Since there are no grills or fire pits, fires are prohibited there.
But Jones has pledged to burn the Qurans, one for each American victim of Sept. 11, anyway. The fire will be contained in an enclosed burning facility, he said, reducing any safety risk.
Even so, law enforcement and Polk County firefighters will be watching every move he makes during the hour-long ceremony. Jones said Monday he’s been meeting with the Polk County Sheriff’s Office regarding the event.
“They wanted a detailed breakdown of everything we’ll be doing,” he said. “They wanted to know who would be armed, and how they would know who was armed.”
He said some members of his group will carry handguns. He estimated about 30 of his supporters will attend.
Donna Wood, spokeswoman for the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, said the department isn’t commenting on the Quran-burning event.
Suzanne Carter-Moore, who grew up in Mulberry and now lives in Lakeland, said she couldn’t stand by and let the event tarnish her hometown’s image.
“I didn’t want the world to see my community as hateful and racist,” she said. “That’s the reason why I had to speak up.”
Within days of Jones’ announcement in July that he was bringing his event to Polk County, Carter-Moore responded with a group of her own, Not in Mulberry Terry Jones. Its Facebook page has drawn support from 458 people.
And Mike Ghouse, president of the Dallas-based Muslim World Congress, initiated plans to relocate his annual Sept. 11 commemorative ceremony to Mulberry. It begins at 8:46 a.m. today at the Mulberry Civic Center, recognizing the moment when the first plane hit the World Trade Center in New York City.
“We will honor those things that bring the faiths together,” Ghouse said, “and we will pray for (Jones.) We want them to know violence is not a behavior that will be tolerated.”
Meanwhile, Jones has created his own Facebook page about today’s Quran burning, and 547 supporters there say they plan to watch him burn the Muslim holy books.
Jones said the event is a memorial to the Americans who died in the terrorist attacks Sept. 11, 2001.
He’s done this before, triggering deadly protests in Afghanistan, but Jones said he remains solid in his resolve to condemn Islam.
That ideology is what brought him to Polk County.
When Jones sold his church property in Gainesville in July, he was left without a venue for his Sept. 11 protest against Islam.
Enter Bill McKinney, who lives on an acre in a neighborhood near Willow Oak and offered his property for Jones’ event.
“I don’t belong to his church, or any church, but I support what he does,” he said.
Two weeks ago, McKinney told Jones that heavy rains had left his yard under water.
“Good God Almighty, I can’t even go out there,” he said. “You can’t see the grass. The water is up the knees of my 4-year-old grandson.”
That led Jones to Loyce E. Harpe Park near Mulberry. Jones bought about 12 acres near Bradenton in late July, but he said supporters already had planned to attend the event in Polk County and it was too late to change the venue.
Harold and Myrtice Hagan, who are organizing a remembrance event in Lake Wales today to honor those who died in the terrorist attacks, said they don’t approve of what Jones is doing, but they don’t think his event will take away from the solemnity of theirs.
“This is not a celebration,” Harold Hagan said. “It’s a solemn assembly where we will pray and mourn for the lives that were lost on 9/11. This is not a time for celebration, by any means.”
The gathering, part of Cry Out America nationwide, begins at noon today at Lake Wales City Hall.
Steve Cochran, principal at Summerlin Academy in Bartow, said he doesn’t think the Quran burning will affect the school’s recognition of Sept. 11 this morning.
“I feel that as an American citizen, he has a right to express his opinion,” Cochran said, “but I don’t feel his actions are representative of American ideals. It does make me glad that we are doing something positive, to balance the attention. I think what we’re doing is more representative of the real Polk County, and how the citizens respect and honor Sept. 11.”
[ Suzie Schottelkotte can be reached or 863-533-9070.]

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