Anti-Islam pastor Terry Jones was prevented from burning 2,998 Qurans on Sept. 11 when Polk County, Fla., police arrested him and confiscated a rented smoker-trailer filled with kerosene-drenched books.
Jones says the arrest was an unconstitutional attempt to block his First Amendment-protected right to burn Qurans and he's now planning to "decimate" Islam's holy book outside Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd's office to denounce "Wild Bill cowboy sheriffing."
The forthcoming protest, tentatively planned for after Christmas, "should be completely legal," Jones says. He will "read passages from the Quran that support radical Islam and tear the pages out" on a sidewalk in Winter Haven, Fla. Burning Qurans at the location, he says, would probably be illegal, so he's not going to do that.
Jones and a colleague face up to 40 years in prison if convicted of a felony charge of illegally transporting fuel to a site where they intended to legally burn Qurans on the 12th anniversary of 9/11. Jones says he told police he planned to presoak the Qurans – for which he was arrested – during a meeting days before he transported them and says they didn't object. Police said the soaked books created a danger to the public.
Jones pleaded not guilty Nov. 12 and prosecutors are reportedly working on a plea deal.
"There was one very ridiculous suggestion" floated during plea deal discussions, Jones says, "that part of my probation would be that I'm not allowed to have a copy of the Quran for six months or a year."
Jones refused to consider that deal, but says he is open to accepting some lesser penalty to resolve the case – even though he maintains his innocence.
Some of Jones' previous book burnings allegedly incited murderous rampages in Muslim countries – prompting local and official opposition whenever he announces new plans to destroy the book. He was sentenced to death by an Egyptian court in November 2012 for allegedly helping to promote a film that ridicules Muhammad.
First Amendment experts say Jones has a right to torch the books and questioned the constitutionality of his Sept. 11 arrest.
"I imagine that many people convey woods and combustible material to tailgate parties and picnics," said George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley. "If this is the first such arrest it raises questions of selective prosecution."
University of California at Los Angeles law professor Eugene Volokh said if police selectively enforced the law against Jones because of his beliefs, the arrest would be unconstitutional, regardless of whether or not he violated the law. "If the government selectively targeted him because it was [Qurans] he was trying to burn, and not rags or something else, that would violate the First Amendment," Volokh said, pointing to the Supreme Court's 1985 Wayte v. United States decision.
Jones says a colleague recently observed another area resident driving with a smoker-trailer that was on fire and "nobody ran down the street arresting them." In addition to the illegal transportation of fuel charge, Jones was slapped with a misdemeanor charge for not sufficiently covering a holstered gun for which he has a concealed carry permit.
"What did Gandhi say? First they laugh at you, then they ignore you, then they fight you, then you win," Jones says. "The pattern's always the same through history."
A spokesperson for the Polk County Sheriff's Office did not respond to a request for comment on Jones' latest protest plans.