Rackspace pulls plug on Koran-burning church’s Web site

Updated: Violation of Acceptable Use Policy cited; church later rescinds threat to burn Koran

Citing violations of its terms of use, Rackspace has deactivated the Web site of that Florida church making worldwide headlines with its threat to burn Korans on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

While the decision is already being criticized in some circles as an affront to free speech, it makes nothing but good sense from a business perspective.

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From an AFP story:

The small Florida church that has sparked global outrage with its plan to hold a Koran-burning event had its website pulled from the Internet on Thursday by its host.

Dan Goodgame, a spokesman for the San Antonio, Texas-based web hosting firm Rackspace, told AFP the evangelical Dove World Outreach Center church had, "violated the Offensive Content section of its Acceptable Use policy."

The policy forbids content or links to material that is "excessively violent, incites violence, threatens violence, or contains harassing content or hate speech; and creates a risk to a person's safety or health, creates a risk to public safety or health, compromises national security, or interferes with a investigation by law enforcement."

Rackspace said it acted after giving the church an opportunity to clean up the offending content.

We are not talking about censorship here, while the word will undoubtedly be bandied about loosely because it always is in these kinds of matters. Governments censor. Private entities such as businesses do not.

Rackspace is no more under an obligation - legal, moral or otherwise - to host this organization's Web site than Apple is to allow pornography in its apps store.

Moreover, Rackspace is a public company and as such has a primary responsibility to protect and advance its business interests. Cutting ties with such an, ahem, incendiary customer is smart business. And having the appropriate terms of service to invoke gives the company all the cover it needs.

Not to mention that it's just the right thing to do.

Not everyone agrees, of course. Writes Nick Saint of Business Insider:

... what is Rackspace thinking?

There is absolutely no reason for web hosts to have an editorial policy, and this only gives Jones more attention, and makes him look more persecuted. Which, after all, is exactly what the lunatic is after.

A fair point, but fueling the lunatic's sense of victimhood is an acceptable price to pay for Rackspace when considering the alternative: having its business associated with this hate-monger and his potentially dangerous stunt.

(Update: Details are sketchy, but news reports have the church backing off on its threat to burn the Koran. From AP: "The leader of a small Florida church that espouses anti-Islam philosophy says he is canceling plans to burn copies of the Koran on Sept. 11. Pastor Terry Jones said Thursday that he decided to cancel his protest because the leader of a planned Islamic Center near ground zero has agreed to move its controversial location. The agreement couldn't be immediately confirmed." Hard to imagine it will be, but it's a crazy world.)

(Update 2: Much debate about the meaning of "censorship" below. I expand on my view here.)

(Update 3: The comments section of this blog is not a forum for debating religion, even when, as in this case, a post obviously involves that topic. Therefore, I've removed a number of comments that were exclusively or primarily about religion. The matter for debate here is what Rackspace did and whether or not it was justified. ... I should have done this sooner.)

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