December 12th, 2010
10:58 AM ET

Pastor who threatened to burn Qurans invited to England

Britain's government is considering whether to block the Florida pastor who threatened to burn copies of the Quran earlier this year from entering the country, a top government official said Sunday.

Terry Jones called off his planned protest amid increasing pressure from U.S. and international leaders. But he has been invited to speak at a 2011 rally by the English Defence League, a British far-right movement.

But British Home Secretary Theresa May, whose office can bar people from entering the United Kingdom, said the government is weighing whether to keep Jones out.

"Pastor Terry Jones has been on my radar for a few months now" she told the Sky News network. "It wasn't clear that he was definitely coming to the UK. But if it is now clear that he's definitely coming to the UK, then of course this is a case that I will be actively looking at."

The English Defence League pushes an anti-Islamic message with provocative marches through neighborhoods with large Muslim populations. It has cultivated links with European far-right groups with a similar agenda, such as controversial Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders' anti-Muslim Party for Freedom, and asked Jones to speak at one of their rallies in February, a spokesman told CNN.

"He called us up and asked if he could come along to one of our demonstrations and speak and we said, 'Why not?' " Steve Simmons said. "We told him that as long as he doesn't break any existing law, we'd be delighted to have him here. We value the freedom of speech and surely he is entitled to his freedom of speech."

But Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation, blasted the EDL's invitation and called on the government to ban him from Britain. Shafiq said Jones' "real agenda of racism and fascism" was bad for Britain.

"I am a strong defender of free speech, but when someone who will incite hatred towards Muslims and furthermore there is a real threat of violence, then the government must ban that person," said Shafiq, whose Muslim youth organization aims to promote co-existence among communities. "I would remind Mr. Jones that the UK is proud of British Muslims, our heritage and our contributions here. We are an integral part of our great country and if you come here to promote hatred and division then stay home."

Jones had planned to burn the Muslim holy book at his Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida, on September 11 to protest what the church calls the "demonic" beliefs of Islam. The stunt provoked demonstrations around the Muslim world and led top U.S. officials to call on Jones to cancel, arguing that the anger it would stir put Americans overseas at risk.

After Jones yielded to that pressure, the city of Gainesville said that it would bill him more than $180,000 for security costs stemming from the threatened protest.

- Newsdesk editor, The CNN Wire

Filed under: Florida • Islam • Quran • United Kingdom • United States

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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.