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McCaskill, Slay condemn pastor's plans to burn Quran

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 9, 2010 - U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., today condemned the plans of a Florida pastor, Terry Jones, to burn copies of the Quran on Saturday, the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. McCaskill made her remarks in response to a question at a news conference today on local veterans issues.

"I don't know how anybody in the name of God would want to endanger the lives of American soldiers," the senator said, referring to the outcry already underway among some Muslims abroad.

"That's not my religion," McCaskill added, while calling on Muslims around the world to understand that because of the United States' constitutionally protected freedoms, "this nut had the right to do this."

"I'm sick to my stomach that he would jeopardize American soldiers," said McCaskill who also referred to Islam as a peaceful religion "with a few bad guys."

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay also weighed in today, writing on his blog: "The Florida pastor has every legal right to burn a book, even though millions of people, including many St. Louisans, regard that book as holy. ... I have the right to say that his doing so would be outrageous, despicable and wrong."

The mayor emailed his outrage to 12,000 supporters.

But McCaskill also condemned all the media coverage of the Gainesville pastor's plans, noting that Jones represents a small church and "a fringe element."

She blamed the media for its focus on covering the "the fights and the disagreements," saying the media were "giving this nutball too much attention."

McCaskill added that she was disturbed that she had to spend a few minutes even talking about it. 

Fallout Appears slight from Cochran's Dental Flap

McCaskill's comments came at the end of a news conference where she related her thoughts after touring the St. Louis area's two chief veterans medical centers -- Cochran and Jefferson Barracks.

Both, she said, have "such low satisfaction surveys among the veterans they serve."

The main complaints, said McCaskill, centered on such matters such as long waits for appointments, rude office staff and lack of parking -- not poor medical care.

"My focus was to get some real answers,'' she said.

Cochran has been beset with controversy over this summer's disclosure that at least 1,600 dental patients may have been exposed to life-threatening illnesses because of improperly sterilized equipment.

McCaskill said all but a handful of the at-risk patients have been tested, and virtually all were cleared of any related diseases. Four were found to have hepatitis, but the senator said that percentage is lower than the general population -- so it's unclear if the dental equipment was to blame.

Overall, she praised Cochran and VA officials for being "very transparent about this process."

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.