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Church at Center of Quran Burning Controversy Known for 'Fringe' Views

The tiny Florida congregation at the center of a controversy over burning the Muslim holy book on September 11 was virtually unknown until announcing its intention several weeks ago.

The Dove World Outreach Center has a long history of anti-Muslim views and has clashed with local civil rights and interfaith groups for its public display of those sentiments. Some in the community have picketed near the church property in protest.

For the past two years, the congregation has erected anti-Muslim signs on its property. Last year, some members sent their children to school wearing T-shirts that proclaimed "Islam is of the Devil." They were sent home by school administrators for dress code violations.

The non-denominational Christian church, which has just 50 members, is located in the town of Gainesville, Florida, which has a population of more than 100,000. Gainesville also is home to the University of Florida and its 50,000 students.

The church also preaches an anti-gay message. Earlier this year, it posted videos and signs condemning an openly gay candidate for mayor of the town where the congregation is located.

Members of the Dove World Outreach Center also have joined another fringe group called the Westboro Baptist Church - an anti-gay congregation from the state of Kansas, that is known for disrupting the funerals of U.S. soldiers. Westboro Baptist also preaches anti-Islam, anti-Catholic, anti-Jewish and anti-Hindu messages. It has burned copies of the Quran in the past.

The founder of the Florida church, 58-year-old Terry Jones, is a former hotel manager who worked as a missionary in Europe for 30 years. He led a small congregation in Cologne, Germany, until 2008, when the church asked him to leave.

The U.S. Constitution guarantees the right of free speech to every citizen. After the Florida congregation announced plans to burn the Muslim holy book on the ninth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, there was worldwide condemnation and appeals from political and religious leaders to abandon those plans.

Local fire authorities refused permission for the congregation to build an open-air bonfire. Police said they would not be allowed to intervene unless a fire were set.