HARRISBURG - Just hours before a Florida pastor agreed to cancel the planned burning of the Quran on Saturday, Gov. Rendell had said he was prepared to stand with members of Philadelphia's Arab American community to counter what he called the "despicable" action.
Rendell said the pastor's plan to burn the holy book for Muslims flew in the face of a basic tenet of American democracy: the freedom to practice the religion of one's choice without being harassed or degraded.
He said early Thursday that he would join members of the city's Arab American community on Saturday in front of Independence Hall to reaffirm that "this is a basic tenet" of what the founding fathers put in the Declaration of Independence.
Thursday night, Rendell's spokesman Gary Tuma said the decision on whether to hold the news conference Saturday would be discussed again Friday, pending the situation in Florida.
"If you go to the Constitution Center in Philadelphia," said Rendell, "there is a wonderful 171/2-minute introductory film, and the first line of the film is that Native Americans roamed these lands for centuries - but European settlers came here seeking the freedom to practice any religion they wished, without prejudice, bias, or harassment."
He added: "It's what this country has been founded on."
Rendell said that by standing with the Arab American community, he hoped to reaffirm that the Quran is "a good book and Islam is a religion that has done many positive things for the people who follow it."
The governor also said he hoped gatherings like his would be replicated in cities across the country, so that "the message that the one million-plus Muslims in this world get is not an America where 50 people in a congregation that's clearly headed by someone who's wacko . . . are burning the Quran - but that the vast, overwhelming majority of the 300 million of us who live in America support the Quran and appreciate Islam as a good religion and hold our Muslim American citizens in high regard."
Rendell also suggested that no other politician in the southeastern part of the state had benefited more than he had from the Arab American community.
"And I happen to be Jewish," he said. "Think about that. . . . That speaks volumes about what's right about this country. And Muslims in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and Iran - that's the story they should be hearing."