On August 24, a 10-year-old girl was sent home on her first day back to school in Gainesville, Florida, for wearing a shirt with the words 'Islam Is Of The Devil' printed on it. Who was this girl? She was Faith Sapp, daughter of Wayne Sapp, pastor of the controversial church, the DoveWorldOutreachCenter, in northwest Gainesville. This church drew protests last month when it displayed a series of hand-painted signs that read "Islam is of the devil."
Next day, more children from the DoveWorldOutreachCenter arrived at area public schools with shirts bearing the anti-Islam message. One Gainesville High student, Emily Sapp, 15, another daughter of Wayne Sapps, and two Eastside High students were sent home and a student at Westwood Middle had to change clothes because of the shirt.
On their front, the T-shirts had a verse from the Gospel of John: "Jesus answered I am the way and the truth and the life; no one goes to the Father except through me," and this statement, "I stand in trust with DoveOutreachCenter." The message "Islam is of the Devil" is on the back of the shirt.
Is this freedom of speech? Certainly it is not. It is the abuse of the freedom of expression as guaranteed by our constitution.
According to School district staff attorney Tom Wittmer, the school district allows students to express their religious beliefs but also must protect other students, such as members of the Muslim faith, from discrimination based on their religious beliefs since there has to be equal treatment of different faiths.
"The next kid might show up with a shirt saying 'Christianity is of the Devil,'" Wittmer argued.
Interestingly, Dove Senior Pastor Terry Jones says no local company "had the guts" to print the shirts. Dove member Wayne Sapp then ordered the shirts over the Internet from a company that allows individuals to design their own shirts.
The DoveWorldOutreachCenter's anti-Islam T-shirts episode came a month after the church displayed a series of hand-painted signs that read in red "Islam is of the devil." The church's website says that the signs are aimed at exposing Islam for what it is. "It is a violent and oppressive religion that is trying to masquerade itself as a religion of peace, seeking to deceive our society."
The church has refused to remove the hate-filled signs despite protests by the Gainesville neighborhood. Dove's Senior Pastor Terry Jones insists that the sign was "an act of saying there is only one way, and that is actually what Christianity is about. It is about pointing the people in the right direction, and that right direction is Jesus and only Jesus." Jones called the sign a "great act of love."
On July 31, a new sign paraphrasing a quote from the Quran has been placed in front of the DoveWorldOutreachCenter. The new sign reads "Koran 9:5 Kill the disbelievers wherever you find them." It joins a series of anti-Islam signs.
Tellingly the DoveWorldOutreachCenter's anti-Islam gimmicks came at a time when the church is facing serious accusations of financial irregularities and it is offered for sale. The church accepts donations and is exempt from taxes, while the senior pastors Terry and his wife, Sylvia Jones, own a for-profit enterprise.
According to Gainesville Sun, former church members who have worshiped under senior pastors Terry and Sylvia Jones are speaking out about what they describe as financial abuses at the DoveWorldOutreachCenter in Gainesville and its sister church in Cologne, Germany, founded by Terry Jones in 1981 and closed in 2008.
The paper says that by all accounts - the church's Web site, interviews with current and former members and Terry Jones' own description - the church in Gainesville, as was the one in Germany, is structured with a for-profit business operating out of tax-exempt church property, using the unpaid labor of church members to maintain a steady stream of merchandise for sale online.
That structure has raised questions with the Alachua County Property Appraiser's Office, which has said it will investigate the church's tax-exempt status. The value of the land and buildings located of the DoveWorldOutreachCenter is assessed at $1.6 million and is wholly exempt from taxes.
Interestingly, entwined with the church's message is a theme stressing obedience to senior pastors and work for the Kingdom of God - a theme that persuaded one couple from Germany to work full time and uncompensated for Terry and Sylvia Jones' business, TS and Company. The business sells vintage furniture on eBay.
The church also has an Academy in Gainesville known as the DoveWorldOutreachAcademy. Outside contact, even with family for weddings and funerals, is prohibited for students who attend the Academy. Its members live on property owned by TS and Company, work in the selling, packing and shipping of furniture and are unpaid.