Preacher Terry Jones -- yes, him again -- on burning scriptures, crispy fries and free speech

Want to take an interesting and, frankly, rather surprising trip to the front lines in the post-Charlie Hebdo wars over the First Amendment?

Well, the Washington Post offered exactly that in its recent feature story updating the tale of the Rev. Terry Jones -- he isn't granted "the Rev." in this story for some strange reason -- the Florida preacher globally known for trying to burn Korans. The video above is a flashback, of course, to a previous blast of coverage.

What did Jones do to merit coverage, once again? The lede is dead perfect:

BRADENTON, Fla. -- As the week began, there was Terry Jones, infamous burner of Korans and the No. 2 target on an al-Qaeda hit list, in plain sight at a Florida mall. Around the world, millions were mourning victims of the massacre in Paris who included another target on the hit list, the editor of Charlie Hebdo, but Jones was at the food court in DeSoto Square running his french fry stand.
The canned music, the display at Vitamin World -- this was the landscape of America’s most brazen offender of Islam, working the counter at Fry Guys Gourmet Fries with a 9mm strapped to his ankle. ...
The 63-year-old preacher has faced hundreds of death threats. He’s got a $2.2 million bounty on his head from the Islamist group Jamaat-ud-Dawa. But until the attacks in Paris, few knew he had just opened a business at a struggling mall on U.S. 41 in Bradenton. When fears of global terrorism were once again stoked, Jones moved back into crusade mode. Fry Guys became a strange pulpit of defiance and chili cheese dogs, and people came to see him for both.

Let me be clear: Other than labeling Jones a "fundamentalist" and moving on, this article isn't all that interested in why the man does what he does and believes that he believes. However, it does offer a surprisingly evenhanded slice of life involving people who are attracted to his public agenda.

Maybe this is what the Post team was thinking: In the American South, the Rev. Jones is kind of what the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists would look like, if the goal is to be on the offensive edge of free speech.

What? The French cartoonists are dead serious about their approach to religion and don't care who is offended. The Post team shows that the Rev. Jones feels the same way.

Jones no longer has a congregation, which isn't all that surprising after the media storms described in this article. But the man himself still has people who find his courage striking.

So read this passage. Is this the man you had fixed in your mind's eye?

“I don’t even usually come to this mall,” said Andy Zelenak, 66, of Bradenton. He told Jones that he wanted to thank him in person for his courage. Jones shook his hand and went off to fix Zelenak’s fried cod sandwich.
Waiting at the counter, Zelenak said that he personally wouldn’t burn a Koran but that Jones had a right to protest radical Islam however he wanted. “They burn churches, behead people, kidnap girls; they all get raped and sold into slavery,” he said. “When people can burn the American flag and the court says they have freedom of expression to do it, then we have the right to burn their Koran.”
Jones labored over the fish sandwich with care, although there’s not much on his menu that he would eat. He prefers organic food, and he drinks mostly juice and water. He also enjoys red wine, a taste he cultivated while living in Germany as a church pastor. ...
Jones kept working, kept selling, kept talking.
“I’ve had them ask me, what if we burned a pile of Bibles? I would pray for them and feel sorry for them. The Bible is the word of God. At the same time, the Bible is a book. I can go down and get me another one,” he said.

GetReligion regulars know that, when it comes to the First Amendment, I am pretty much as far to the true-believer left -- if "left" is still the accurate word, in today's political world -- as you can get. So I didn't see the sad ending coming, when I read this fascinating story.

What happens? This isn't a #IAmTerryJones situation. Yet.

Read it for yourself. That will be worth your time. Trust me on that.

Please respect our Commenting Policy