Facing worldwide opposition, and the likelihood that his church would be hit by city and county charges in the tens of thousands of dollars, Christian minister Terry Jones called off his plan to burn hundreds of copies of the Quran.
The bonfire was to be held Saturday, the anniversary of 9/11, on the lawn of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida.
From President Obama to Sarah Palin, the book burning had been condemned. Obama called the plan a "recruitment bonanza for al-Qaeda."
It might not have been possible to do it anyway. The minister could not get a permit. Officials said the police and fire department would be present. Firefighters would have doused the illegal blaze.
"The City of Gainesville has denied Dove World Outreach's request for a permit to burn the Koran," said City Manager Russ Blackburn in an email. "Provisions of our ordinances prohibit bonfires and open burning. Gainesville is preparing for all contingencies and will utilize all tools allowed under the City's ordinances and state law to respond to any violation of the ordinances or statutes."
City and Alachua County officials said Jones and his Dove World Outreach Center were likely to be billed tens of thousands of dollars for law enforcement and other services. On Wednesday night sheriff's deputies painted over a sign advertising the Koran burning that was placed next to a mosque.
Allowing an illegal fire to continue to burn would have put the city in a difficult position. Should it spread and damage any other property, the city would be the likely target of a lawsuit. The denial of a fire permit is not a free speech issue.
Vigilantes also could spray the fire with powerful hoses from across the street, claiming that their action also is covered under the First Amendment. Gainesville, a city of 124,000, is home to the University of Florida, and students often get involved in political disputes.
Lawyers have generally said that based on two decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court, the minister had the right to burn the books because of free speech guarantees.
But these were uncharted waters. The courts haven't dealt with the issue of an action that could cost the lives of American soldiers and civilians overseas. Surely that would qualify as incitement to violence. There is no sign of anyone seeking an injunction.
Jones has put Christian leaders in an uncomfortable position. He and several other fundamentalist Christian extremists are giving their faith a bad name. Christian leaders, all the way to the Vatican, said Jones did not represent Christianity and shouldn't be considered representative of it.
Muslims have been dealing with that perception for decades. Some would say turnabout is fair play. Worse, though, was the threat that this action will inflame extremists and result in bloodshed.