Christians and non-Christians alike are protesting a sign posted by a Florida church that equates Islam with the work of the devil.
Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., posted a sign early this week that reads, "Islam is of the Devil" on its front lawn. Its pastor, Dr. Terry Jones, told local news station WCJB that although most people consider the sign a message of hate, his church sees it as a "message of awareness, of opportunity to talk and to rethink."
He also said the sign is the church's way of expressing love to Muslims by informing them that Christianity is the only way to heaven, according to The Gainesville Sun. Jones says Islam is deceptive in presenting itself as a religion of peace.
Local residents, however, have reacted with shock and have staged protests outside the church.
"I was really shocked to see 'Islam is of the devil' on their sign," said Brandon Schneider to the local Action News station. "I'm Jewish but I still take offense to that."
Muslim American Shahnaz Haghanifar, meanwhile, said the sign creates hate.
Even a member of First Baptist Church of Alachua called the sign a "persecution of religion."
Despite the protests, Jones said his church does not plan to take down the sign and intends to put up even more signs addressing other hot-button issues like abortion and same-sex marriage.
According to city officials, the church is permitted to keep the sign's message up if it makes the sign smaller and places it lower to the ground.
Church staffs have thanked protesters for drawing attention to the sign and the church.
Dove World Outreach Center is a charismatic, non-denominational church founded in 1986, according to the church's website. It is actively involved in the community, helping to feed and clothe the local poor.