Opinion

Hey, Remember When Bloomberg Weirdly Defended a Florida Pastor's Right to Burn the Koran?

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg Photo by Gage Skidmore / Flickr
click to enlarge Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg - PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE / FLICKR
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg
As a politician, Michael Bloomberg has been saying things in public for decades. That's unfortunate, of course, because Bloomberg is now running as an anti-Trump Democrat despite the fact that he has spent his entire career being, well, Trumpian.

Let's take one little-discussed incident from 2010: That year, Gainesville, Florida, pastor Terry Jones announced that his congregation, the Dove World Outreach Church, planned to stage a mass Koran-burning on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks. Jones was an obvious bigot — he had gained fame for posting a sign declaring that "Islam is of the Devil" and later promoted numerous anti-Islamic films, including 2012's Innocence of Muslims, which sparked international protests and was believed to have been a catalyst for the Benghazi attacks. Jones' followers have also compared Islam to Nazism.

Before the 9/11 "International Burn a Quran Day" event occurred, numerous public officials implored Jones to stop. Both Gen. David Petraeus and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton begged Jones not to hold the event. Petraeus, for example, said it might inspire terror attacks on U.S. troops overseas.

But one prominent politician — then-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who seemingly had no relation to the case at the time — needlessly jumped into the debate to remind Americans that Jones had the right to do whatever he wanted.

"In a strange way, I'm here to defend his right to do that. I happen to think that it is distasteful. The First Amendment protects everybody, and you can't say that we're going to apply the First Amendment to only those cases where we are in agreement," Bloomberg said that year. "If you want to be able to say what you want to say when the time comes that you want to say it, you have to defend others, no matter how... much you disagree with them."

Although his argument is technically valid, it's unclear what good it did or why it needed to be said. Though it might seem weird given how insane the Trump era has become, the Koran-burning controversy was national news at the time — but no one was threatening to put Jones in jail. His critics were simply asking him not to go forward with the event.

Thank you, Mayor Bloomberg, for your reminder that the Constitution does, in fact, exist.
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.