STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Now let's come back to the U.S. Last month, the pastor of a Florida church burned a Quran, carrying out a threat he'd made months earlier. Terry Jones' discretion of the Muslim holy book drew little media attention at the time, but later led to riots that claimed 20 lives. As NPR's Greg Allen reports, it's also touched off a debate over the limits of free speech.
GREG ALLEN: When Terry Jones presided over the burning of a Quran on March 20th few reporters attended. It was a marked difference from the scene outside his church last year when reporters, cameras and satellite trucks made him, at least temporarily, a dubious worldwide celebrity. To make sure the word got out this time Jones's church members videotaped the event and put it up on its website.
It was a mock trial, complete with a prosecutor, a jury comprised of church members, and the judge played by Jones himself.
Reverend TERRY JONES (Pastor, Dove World Outreach Center): The Quran is charged with death, rape, torture of people worldwide whose only crime is not being of the Islamic faith.
ALLEN: At the conclusion of the trial, Jones and his jurors pronounced the Quran guilty, and a kerosene-soaked copy of the Islamic holy book was placed on a barbecue grill and set aflame.
Jones said he did it to raise awareness about the nature of radical Islam and was surprised that at first it attracted little notice. A few days later however, the small flame Jones lit in Gainesville was kindled into something much larger half a world away.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai strongly condemned the act. That led to a series of protests in Afghanistan that have claimed more than 20 lives, including those of seven U.N. employees. In an interview yesterday, Jones said he feels no responsibility for those deaths.
Rev. JONES: If I don't think it does the people who were killed a great injustice to indicate that, because what we are actually doing then, we are sending a clear message to the radical element of Islam and were saying, on one side, what you did was wrong, but after all you were provoked, thus making it not so wrong.
ALLEN: In a sermon Sunday, Jones likens himself to Martin Luther King, Jr. He said people died in the Civil Rights Movement but that didn't make King wrong to lead it. Jones says he has no desire to be part of an anti-Islam movement in America and respects the right of moderate Muslims to practice their religion here.
But that's not how Muhammad Musri sees it. Musri is an imam with the Islamic Society of Central Florida, and spent two days last September trying to convince Jones to cancel plans to burn the Quran. Musri says Jones has become the most visible leader of a larger movement of what he calls an anti-Islamic hate groups.
Imam MUHAMMAD MUSRI (Islamic Society of Central Florida): He enjoys the spotlight and, to him, he has nothing else to do but to promote his book and to really show himself as, quote-unquote, "a Christian leader who is leading the charge against Islam."
ALLEN: Some of those anti-Islamic groups are organizing a protest later this month near America's largest mosque in Dearborn, Michigan. Michigan Muslim leaders asked Jones to stay away. He says he's going anyway but has no plan to burn any more Qurans.
Rev. JONES: It has been judged. I think that it was a fair trial so there's absolutely no need to do that again. And there is no plans to do that.
ALLEN: In Afghanistan, at least for now, the deadly violence appears to have abated. In this country, Jones's actions have raised questions about what constitutes responsible free speech. On CBS on Sunday, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said it's an issue he plans to take up in Congress.
Senator LINDSEY GRAHAM (Republican, South Carolina): You know, I wish we could find some way to hold people accountable. Free speech is a great idea but we're in a war. During World War II, you had limits on what you could say if it would inspire the enemy.
ALLEN: A Pakistani group with ties to terrorism has put a $2.2 million price tag on Jones's head. In Dearborn, authorities say they're aware Jones has received death threats related to his plan protests there, and are considering whether to issue a demonstration permit.
Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.
INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.