CAIRO - A legislation that aims to raise public awareness about diverse religions in the US state of Pennsylvania is sparking threats from atheists to burn the Noble Qur'an in protest at the drive, inviting a storm of anger in the state.
I am a nonbeliever and for (the House) to assume we respect these books is asinine, Ernest Perce, of Harrisburg, the director of the Pennsylvania chapter of American Atheists, was quoted as saying by The Washington Post.
Perce threatened to bring a whip into the state Capital to desecrate the Qur'an in September if the Year of Religious Diversity legislation is passed.
I will let other atheists come with me (to protest), he said.
The proposed legislation says the Qur'an, the Bible and other sacred texts impart great wisdom and beauty to believers and are appreciated and respected by nonbelievers as well.
Perce was the center of a court row after he dressed as a zombie version of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing be upon him).
The atheist had alleged that he was attacked by a Muslim man over his zombie prophet parade.
But his claim was rejected by a US judge and was criticized for hurting Muslim sensitivities by wearing a zombie version of the prophet.
The atheist activist was also involved in placing a billboard portraying an African slave in Harrisburg.
Muslims consider the Qur'an the literal word of God and treat each book with deep reverence.
Desecration is considered one of the worst forms of blasphemy.
In 2010, Florida pastor Terry Jones had sparked international outcry after announcing plans to burn the Qur'an on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
The plans had sparked violent protests in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Muslim world, leaving several people dead.
The radical pastor burned the Qur'an anyway in March 2011, following an attack on a UN compound in Afghanistan, which left several people dead.
But the atheists' plans to burn the Qur'an have invited anger in Pennsylvania.
I'm somewhat befuddled by attempts to create controversy where there really isn't any, State Rep. Mark Cohen, D-Philadelphia, who sponsored the legislation, told PennLive website.
If the goal is to secure more respect for atheists, it's self-defeating.
Douglas Jacobsen, a professor of church history and theology at Messiah College, also criticized the threat by atheists to burn the Qur'an.
I don't respect their positions, he said.
When you have a very minority position the only way you are heard is when you have an extreme amplifier.
He opined that the media coverage of the atheist threat helps amplify the message.
In the case of Perce ... he has really strong feelings and doesn't feel that he has been heard, so he needs an extreme act, Jacobsen said.
The American Religious Identification survey has found that the number of people claiming "no religion" as doubled during the past 18 years to form 15 percent of US population.
In some states like South Carolina, the number of non-believers has more than tripled.
Another recent study by Trinity College in Connecticut also revealed atheism is growing in the US.
Some believe that atheist organizations have flourished in recent years fed by outrage over the former George W. Bush administration's embrace of the religious right and its religion-colored policies.
Others refer the phenomenon to a spate of anti-religion books which flooded the market during the former administration.