Attorney General Eric Holder said in a private meeting with religious leaders Tuesday that a Florida pastor's plan to burn Korans was "idiotic and dangerous."
Following several high-profile potential hate crimes against Muslims, Holder met with several religious leaders to discuss the incidents, including the recent uproar over the planned New York Islamic Center near Ground Zero.
One of the leaders who attended the meeting, Muslim Advocates executive director Farhana Khera, said that during the meeting, Holder expressed his dismay of Gainesville, Fla., pastor Terry Jones' plan to burn Korans on the anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks
"To quote the attorney general, he called the Gainesville planned burning of Korans 'idiotic and dangerous' and underscored in many different ways that that activity is really a hate-incitement activity," Khera said. "While it may not be a violation of the law, it may be an act of free speech, it certainly violates our sense of decency."
Holder met with the interfaith leaders to discuss the Justice Department's commitment to preventing and prosecuting hate crimes, department spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement released after the meeting.
He pointed out that in the last 18 months, the department has prosecuted three men who burned a mosque in Tennessee, two who burned an African-American church in Massachusetts, and another who spray-painted threats on a synagogue in Alabama, as well as other cases
The department's Civil Rights Division is also investigating the stabbing of a New York City cab driver, the recent arson of construction equipment at a planned mosque in Murfreesboro, Tenn., and vandalism at an Islamic center in Madera, Calif., and at a mosque in Arlington, Texas, DOJ officials have said.
"As the Attorney General has noted on previous occasions, violence against individuals or institutions based on religious bias is intolerable and the department will bring anyone who commits such crimes to justice," Miller said. "Americans of every faith have the right to worship and practice their religion in peace, and the Department will continue to work with its state and local partners to ensure that this right is upheld."
Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, the president at Interfaith Alliance, said Holder told the group that the way American citizens handle this controversy could define the country.
"This may be the civil rights issue of this generation," Gaddy said. "We will tell the world far more about our identity as a nation by the actions we take in this moment, than by any statement any of us will make."
The meeting with Holder came just eight days after the religious leaders met with Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Tom Perez.
The coalition of religious leaders have called on the Obama administration to take a more public stance against hate speech and hate crimes that have recently become commonplace, and urged Holder to speak out forcefully.
Although the Justice Department put out a paper statement following Tuesday's meeting, it was not attributed to Holder. Still, the alliance of religious leaders said they were hopeful that Holder would speak out publicly for the first time on this issue on Sept. 11.
"We think that this was an important first step to convene this meeting -- especially on such quick notice," Khera said. "I remain hopeful that the attorney general will make a public statement.