A Indiana Baptist pastor has been accused of spewing "hate speech" after he posted the following message on his church's marquee: "Sunday sermon 10:30 a.m. 'Islam: America's No. 1 Enemy.'"
Marc Monte has been pastor of Faith Baptist Church in Avon, Ind., for five years, according to a report in the Indianapolis Star. He says his sermon would include important information the pubic is not getting from the media.
"I want to stir interest, not alarm, but Islam is a false religion, dangerous and hate-promoting," Monte told the paper.
"If I were a pastor who read KKK literature or Hitler's 'Mein Kampf,' I would hope the members of my church would head to other churches. It is awful stuff. I repudiate it, and I put Islam in the same camp."
Not everyone feels placing such a message on a church marquee is appropriate, however.
"To call Islam an 'enemy' seems to be a message of hate," Susan Jones, who passes the sign twice a day, told the Star.
Sayyid M. Syeed, director of a nearby Islamic Center of North America, said such views were inflammatory and dangerous to society.
"Whether it is a pastor in Avon or Osama bin Laden, it is religion spoken with the same language – to incite others and provoke violence. It is the same treatment of religion; extremists think a lot alike," Syeed told the paper.
Monte says he met with Syeed shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks and afterward decided to study the Quran to learn more about Islam.
"I met with Syeed, and it got me very curious. In this personal conversation, there were things that struck me as odd," he is quoted by the Star as saying. "I opened the Quran and smelled a stinking, bloated, dead rat on every page."
Monte told the paper he has had only one call about the marquee. His church normally draws about 350 people to Sunday service, the report said.
Shortly after 9-11, both the Rev. Jerry Falwell and Christian evangelist Franklin Graham took heat in the media for articulating their opinions about Islam.
Graham called Islam a "very evil and wicked religion" in an interview about his latest book. In "The Name," he wrote, "Islam – unlike Christianity – has among its basic teachings a deep intolerance for those who follow other faiths."
In an interview with Beliefnet, he said, "I believe the Quran teaches violence, not peace," and, in an indirect criticism of President Bush, he said that after the Sept. 11 attacks "there was this hoo-rah around Islam being a peaceful religion – but then you start having suicide bombers, and people start saying, 'Wait a minute, something doesn't add up here.'"
Graham explained to Beliefnet last spring that "when people ask, I let them know I don't believe in their God. But I respect their right to believe whatever they want to believe."