Mayor Michael Bloomberg yesterday stepped into another divisive religious debate, this time defending a Florida church that’s planning to burn Qurans on Sept. 11.

Bloomberg called the burning “distasteful,” but legal.

“In a strange way I’m here to defend his right to do that,” Bloomberg said of the church’s minister. “The First Amendment protects everybody. You can’t say we’re going to apply the First Amendment in only those cases where we are in agreement.”

Attorney General Eric Holder, meanwhile, called the Quran bonfire “idiotic” and “dangerous.”
Last month, the mayor was roundly criticized for supporting a developer’s plan to build a mosque near Ground Zero, citing freedom of religion.

U.S. officials have said the burning may endanger Americans abroad. Gen. David Petraeus predicted extremists would use images of a burning Quran to incite violence.

But Terry Jones, minister of Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., isn’t changing his plans for the ninth anniversary of 9/11 on Saturday.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley yesterday called the so-called Burn a Quran Day stunt “un-American.”

“We think that these are provocative acts,” he said. “They are disrespectful, they’re intolerant, they’re divisive.”

Still, Bloomberg’s message of tolerance has supporters.

“Bloomberg is on the right side of this issue,” said political consultant Hank Sheinkopf. “Freedom of religion is a very basic right in America. It would be hard to attack him on this.”

But others thought Bloomberg’s comments were politically motivated.

“He’s looking for another term, maybe,” said Jimmy Hall, a Muslim from Brooklyn Heights.
Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the issue’s impact abroad is what’s most important.

“In a way, Bloomberg was stating fact,” he said. “But it’s how those facts will be perceived overseas is the question.”

(With Sheila Anne Feeney and AP)

Latest video