A Lesson on Free Speech and Sharia in Knoxville

A stunning defeat for CAIR in an unlikely place.

[](/sites/default/files/uploads/2014/10/lk.jpg)A recent legal victory by Freedom X upheld the right of private citizens to discuss openly sharia law at a Knoxville, Tennessee, high school. “This is a victory for free speech,” Freedom X’s President William J. Becker rightly explained, in yet another instructive example of Islamists seeking to subvert the United States Constitution’s First Amendment.

A local Knoxville chapter of ACT! for America began the case by arranging an April 24 evening town hall at Farragut High School (FHS). The event featured Dr. Bill French, Center for the Study of Political Islam founder under the pen name Warner, and Matt Bonner, regional director of the Crescent Project, a Christian evangelization ministry for Muslims. They intended to address the encroachment in America of sharia, vaguely described in one online report as “Islamic laws governing worship and lifestyle.” Becker correctly clarifies that “Sharia is incompatible with our constitutional and legal protections” in numerous ways.

Both local and national Muslims groups, however, greeted the event with harsh opposition. Abdel Rahman Murphy, a Muslim chaplain at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, emailed then FHS principal Mike F. Reynolds on April 8 requesting the event’s cancellation. The town hall flyer had “kind of an aggressive tone,” Murphy argued to reporters. “Feel free hosting” the event “anywhere else by renting out a banquet hall,” Murphy added, “but to host it at a public place…is not comfortable for the rest of us.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a radical faux civil rights group and an unindicted terrorism financing coconspirator, also objected. An April 11 CAIR news release publicized a letter by CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper to FHS the previous day that “vilifies…French, Bonner and ACT! for America” with a “false attribution” of “anti-Muslim hate” refuted by Becker’s complaint. “We support the First Amendment right to free speech—even…hate speech used by these speakers,” Hooper argued. The “need for a safe and inclusive learning environment,” though, makes a “school…not the proper setting.”

Principal Reynolds’ April 10 letter to Knox County Schools Superintendent James P. McIntyre, Jr. shared Hooper’s sentiments. “Groups promoting hate rather than tolerance” would have the event “serve as a public forum for harassment and bullying practices that contradict the open-minded, academic discussion we seek to…foster at” FHS, Murphy wrote. The event would generate “little positive press or educational benefit,” yet “polarize our community” when “deemed ours by association.” Concerns of “potential backlash” and “future security threats” from “retaliation of opposing groups” existed. These “expressed concerns…about…disruption” from an event unsuitable for “a safe, healthy and comfortable learning environment” caused McIntyre to rescind ACT!’s invitation in an April 11 letter to its Knoxville chapter leaders.

A Knoxville school official was “happy to announce” ACT!’s uninviting. Hooper boasted of the school’s decision, arguing that “this event in a public school would send an implicit message of endorsement for the bigoted views of the speakers.” Knoxville schools must “remain a safe place for all students,” concurred Remziya Suleyman from the Tennessee-based Muslim organization, American Center for Outreach.

The Knoxville ACT! chapter’s president John Peach held the event in a church, not seeking other public venues for fear of another cancellation. “Sharia is not well-understood and we wanted to inform the public” as “concerned Americans,” Peach said. An “American…should” not “be afraid to speak out on public matters in a public forum.”

Peach noted that Muslim groups such as the Saudi-backed Muslim Students Association, meanwhile, could openly operate unopposed at the University of Tennessee Knoxville campus. “If it’s right for Muslims to host events in tax-funded public facilities, then what is wrong with a group of citizens wanting the same,” he asked. “This is a great example of what Sharia Law is doing to America.”

On August 4th, Peach and French with Becker as counsel sued the school district for violating his First Amendment constitutionally protected rights. “It is unfortunate we have to educate the educators,” Becker stated in filing the lawsuit to coincide with the school year opening, but the First Amendment’s “freedom of speech…distinguishes America from Muslim nations.” “CAIR and other terror-affiliated groups are exploiting our laws,” Becker analyzed, “to erode…freedom of speech…part and parcel of a greater plan” for an “Islamic caliphate.” “Unfortunately…as Muslim activists play the victim card,” this trend will grow, even though blasphemy laws are unconstitutional.

Because “litigation would have been futile,” Becker rejoiced, the school’s attorneys settled just 21 days after his filing. An “undifferentiated fear or apprehension of disturbance is not enough to overcome” the “hazardous freedom” that “is the basis of our national strength,” the 1969 United States Supreme Court Tinker v. Des Moines School District decision cited by Becker held. In addition to paying plaintiff attorney fees and costs, a new school district policy states that “[a]pproval for use of school buildings and property will not be withheld based upon the content of the message or viewpoint of the applicant.”

As with a prior June 2014 Chicago CAIR lead protest involving another instance of ACT! using public facilities for an anti-Sharia program, America’s First Amendment protections have stopped those who would inhibit open discussion of Islam. Vague “hate” or “disruption” claims have not silenced indirectly in America speech censored directly in majority-Muslim countries or “multicultural” sensitive Europe. The Knoxville case, a precedent that will not remained unnoticed, has shown groups like CAIR that Americans will not hesitate to defend free speech under assault even in the land of the free.

This article was commissioned by The Legal Project, an activity of the Middle East Forum.

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