(RNS) President Obama has added his voice to a chorus of critics condemning a Florida pastor’s plans—now in doubt—to burn Qurans on Saturday (Sept. 11), the ninth anniversary of the terrorist attacks.
Obama on Thursday (Sept. 9) called the Quran burning a “recruitment bonanza for al-Qaida” and asked the Rev. Terry Jones to “listen to those better angels” and cancel the event planned at his small church in Gainesville.
Late Thursday afternoon, Jones said that he is willing to call off the burning if the backers of a planned Islamic community center moved their project further from Ground Zero. Jones said he plans to meet with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf on Saturday and expects the project, known as Park51, to be relocated.
“We would right now ask no one to burn Qurans,” Jones said at a press conference. “We are absolutely strong on that. It is not the time to do it.”
Burning the Muslim holy book runs contrary to America’s history of religious tolerance, and would put U.S. soldiers and diplomats around the world in grave danger, Obama told ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
“As a very practical matter,” the president said, “I just want him to understand that this stunt that he is talking about pulling could greatly endanger our young men and women who are in uniform.”
Already, protests have erupted in Indonesia and Afghanistan, and U.S. embassies have been told to take additional security precautions.
Despite the growing number of critics—including the Vatican, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and top U.S. military officials—Jones had remained unwilling to budge.
Jones, 58, is pastor of the Dove World Outreach Center, which has about 50 members.
The pastor had said he wants to burn about 200 Qurans on Saturday to “call the attention that something is wrong” and “confront terrorism.” Last year on 9/11, Jones and his congregation wore T-shirts saying “Islam is of the Devil.”
In a statement on Thursday, Archbishop Wilton Gregory, chairman of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ interreligious committee, said “All acts of intolerance aimed at a religious community should find no place in our world, let alone in our nation, which is founded on the principle of religious freedom.”