Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha of Lahore has asked the U.S. government to take action over the burning of a Quran by a Christian pastor in Florida.
“The U.S. government talks about religious freedom – but we call upon the U.S. government to prevent such actions by extremists and other fundamentalist Christians,” the president of the Pakistan bishops’ conference told Aid to the Church in Need.
“The U.S. government should detain the pastor for some time,” the archbishop continued. “In view of the effects his actions have had all over the world, he should be controlled and understand the harm that has been done.”
On March 20, Florida pastor Terry Jones of the non-denominational 50-member Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida presided over what he called an “International Judge the Koran Day.” He supervised the burning of the book in front of about 50 people.
Video posted on the church’s website showed a kerosene-soaked book going up in bright flames in a metal fire pit located inside the church.
News of the event enraged thousands of protesters in northern Afghanistan, according to news reports. They stormed a United Nations compound on April 1 and killed at least seven U.N. staff. At least 24 have been killed in protests in Afghanistan and demonstrations have also taken place across Pakistan.
Archbishop Saldanha questioned reports from Pakistan that unrest sparked by the Florida event led to recent attacks on three churches. However, he stressed the strength of feeling expressed by Muslims.
“Although there have not been any reactions against Christians, it could become ugly,” he continued.
Churches in Pakistan have put extra security measures in place in recent months, including armed guards, concrete blocks, security cameras and sand bags.
On April 2 President Barack Obama responded to the Quran burning and the violence.
“The desecration of any holy text, including the Quran, is an act of extreme intolerance and bigotry,” he said. “However, to attack and kill innocent people in response is outrageous and an affront to human decency and dignity.”
Shortly after the burning, Rev. Jones said the event participants believe that parts of the Quran “if taken literally, do lead to violence and terrorist activities, do promote racism or prejudice against minorities, against Christians, against women.”
He told the BBC he did not feel responsible for the killings of the U.N. employees in Afghanistan.
In September the 58-year-old pastor drew international condemnation for his announcement that he would burn the Quran on the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. International figures such as Pope Benedict XVI asked him not to go through with his plans, which he canceled.