DETROIT — In a stunning turn after a chaotic, tense day in Dearborn, two Christian pastors seeking to protest outside the city’s largest mosque were sent to jail Friday after refusing to post a $1 bond and ordered to stay away from the mosque and adjacent property for three years.
The decision surprised supporters of Florida Pastor Terry Jones and his assistant, Wayne Sapp. Supporters said they couldn’t believe Jones was being jailed before he even attempted to visit the mosque, the Islamic Center of America.
As reporters waited outside the courthouse for Jones to emerge, several police officers later said Jones had posted the bond and left the building by another exit.
The move came after a six-person jury ruled in a daylong trial that the rally Jones wanted to hold would breach the peace. The rally has been controversial because Jones and Sapp burned a copy of the Quran last month in Florida, setting off worldwide protests in Muslim countries.
“Are you prepared to post the $1 bond?” Judge Mark Somers asked Jones.
“Uh,” Jones said, pausing for a brief moment, before declaring: “No.”
Sapp similarly refused.
Dearborn police led away Jones and Sapp after they were remanded to Wayne County Jail by Somers, the son of Christian missionaries.
Melissa Greene, 34, of Garden City cheered the verdict from outside the courthouse. A member of the grass-roots social activist group By Any Means Necessary, Greene called it a victory because Jones was unable to hold his rally on Friday as planned.
“When a racist provocateur like this comes to town, he will be met by people from all over metro Detroit,” she said.
The decision to prosecute and jail Jones was slammed by civil rights experts, advocates and even some Muslim leaders who thought the move turned Jones into a hero.
The trial was ordered on Thursday to determine whether the rally would breach the peace. The Islamic center is next to six churches. Jones and Sapp argued that the First Amendment gave them the right to rally there, but prosecutors said the right can be limited in certain situations. And this was one of them, given that it was Good Friday, pedestrian access near the mosque is limited and that Jones might draw violent protesters given his Quran-burning.
As the jury deliberated Friday, hundreds of people rallied nearby in front of the Henry Ford Centennial Library in a show of unity against violence and racism.
Earlier in court, during closing arguments, Wayne County Assistant Prosecutor Robert Moran said the pastors would disturb the peace if they were allowed to protest Friday at the mosque.
Sapp, referring to the First Amendment, said, “That’s what made America great. We’re entitled to our opinion.”
During the chaotic day, Jones said he was not backing down from his plans to protest at the mosque.
“We’ll do it today at 5 or we’ll come back next week,” he said during a break in testimony.
Speaking at a McDonald’s restaurant down the street from the courthouse, Jones — who defended himself — said he thought the proceedings were going well. And he said the government’s case was weak.
As he spoke, someone driving down Michigan Avenue yelled, “Get out of Dearborn, you terrorist!”
During morning testimony, Dearborn Police Chief Ronald Haddad said there had been at least four serious threats made against Jones from metro Detroiters, raising the likelihood of violence if the protest were held.
The court drew supporters and opponents, Christians and Muslims. The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan was also there to monitor the case because the group said earlier this week it had concerns that Jones’ free speech rights were being violated by Wayne County and Dearborn police.
In his opening statement, Jones repeated negative comments about Islam that he made last month when he oversaw the burning of the Quran in Florida. He said the Quran “promotes terrorist activities around the world.”
He also strongly defended the U.S. Constitution.
“The one thing that makes the Constitution great is the First Amendment,” Jones said to the six-person jury.
Except for the Bible, the Constitution is the greatest document in history, Jones said.
“The First Amendment does us no good if it confines us to saying what is popular,” he added.
Moran said in his opening statement the rally was an issue of security and breaching the peace.