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Profile: Bill Bunten
Bill Bunten was a participant or observer in the following events:
Members of the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC—see November 27, 1955 and After) ceremonially burn a Koran in Topeka, Kansas, while singing parodies of hymns and patriotic songs. The members also burn an American flag. The action draws relatively little reaction, unlike an earlier Koran-burning announcement from Florida that attracted condemnation from President Obama (see September 10, 2010) and heavy press coverage (see September 9, 2010). Only a few local reporters cover the event, and members of Topeka’s Islamic community deliberately avoid the event. “I’m glad it didn’t get a lot of publicity and it didn’t draw a lot of people to the church,” says Imam Omar Hazim, of the Islamic Center of Topeka. “It seemed people in Topeka ignored what they were doing.” Hazim says he asked local Muslims to stay away from the event during his sermon the day before. “If we had 40 or 50 of us there and they started getting angry, things could get out of control. So I told them to ignore it.” Topeka Mayor Bill Bunten stayed home to watch football, and says the antics of the WBC are drawing less and less national attention. Referring to the Reverend Terry Jones, who orchestrated the Florida Koran-burning, Bunten says: “The fool in Florida one-upped them. They were apparently tagging along on his idea, so the fellow in Florida had stolen the stage, so to speak.” WBC events are “kind of old hat now,” Bunten says. WBC leader Shirley Phelps-Roper explains that the church chose to burn the Koran and the American flag because both are “idols” that people worship. After the burning, she says: “I thought it was awesome. It was another 14 on a scale of 10.” Some counterprotesters demonstrate during the event. One, Shaun Crouse, later says: “There’s already a holy war going on overseas. Provoking it is not what we need to do.… I understand freedom of speech, but this is wrong. Burning the Koran—that’s somebody’s holy book. What would you do if someone burned the Bible, the holy book of Christianity? You’d be pretty upset, too.” Before the event, Phelps-Roper accused Jones, the Florida pastor, of “jumping on the bandwagon” and “serving himself” instead of God. Hazim said that the WBC leadership may be “jealous” of the media attention bestowed upon Jones. [Topeka Capital-Journal, 9/10/2010; Topeka Capital-Journal, 9/11/2010]
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