Activists Claim Free Speech Victory As ‘Leaving Islam’ Ads Return to Buses

 
(CNSNews.com) – A public transit authority in Florida has reversed a decision to take down banner advertisements on buses that offer help to Muslims wanting to leave their faith. Activists are hailing the move as a victory for free speech and religious freedom.
 
Not only will the ten originally planned ads appear on Miami-Dade Transit buses in coming days, but an additional 20 ads will be run at no extra cost.
 
The decision came after the group initiating the ad campaign threatened a lawsuit, claiming breach of contract and violation of First Amendment rights.
 
It was confirmed in an agreement signed on Wednesday, according to lawyer David Yerushalmi, whose firm prepared a federal complaint together with the Thomas More Law Center.
 
The bus company pulled the ads last week less than 48 hours after they had gone up, after a controversial Islamic pressure group complained that they promoted “anti-Islam bigotry.”
 
Produced by an organization called Stop the Islamization of America (SIOA), the ads alluded to the difficulties faced by Muslims wanting to leave Islam.
 
Under Islamic law, or shari’a, any Muslim who abandons his faith is guilty of apostasy, an offense that leading scholars have taught is punishable by death.
 
“Fatwa on your head?” the ads’ tagline read. “Is your community or family threatening you? Leaving Islam? Got questions? Get answers!” The ads also give the URL of a Web site offering resources for people who have abandoned Islam or are thinking about doing so.
 
Their appearance triggered protests from the South Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Its director, Muhammed Malik, said the issue of apostasy was being used as “a smoke-screen to promote anti-Islam bigotry and attempt to marginalize American Muslims.”
 
Following the CAIR complaints, a Miami-Dade Transit spokeswoman told Florida media that the authority decided to remove the ads after reviewing them and determining that they might be offensive. An outside company, CBS Outdoor, had sold the ad space and the ads had not been routinely reviewed at the outset.


A ‘Stop the Islamization of America’ ad appears on the side of a Miami-Dade Transit bus. Complaints from the Council on American-Islamic Relations prompted their removal, but under threat of a lawsuit, the County on Wednesday, April 21, 2010 agreed to run them again. (Image: SIOA)

Yerushalmi said he had been ready to go to federal court this week to apply for a temporary restraining order, but that during a teleconference with the Miami-Dade County Attorney’s office, “the county attorneys conceded the ads should not have been pulled.”
 
The lawyer then negotiated a retraction of the earlier contract termination with CBS Outdoor. “The ads are expected to go back up by early next week.”
 
Miami-Dade Transit did not respond to queries Wednesday.
 
The driving forces behind SIOA and a related group, the Freedom Defense Initiative, are Pamela Geller of the Atlas Shrugs Web site, and Jihad Watch director and author Robert Spencer.
 
When they launched the campaign last week, Geller and Spencer said it marked “the first time anyone has offered public help to those who are threatened under Islam’s apostasy law. In the Land of the Free, government and law enforcement should be on this. But they aren’t. So we are. It is time for free citizens to stand for freedom – or lose it.”
 
SIOA has cited cases like that of Rifqa Bary, the teenage girl of Sri Lankan origin who converted to Christianity from Islam and then fled from her Ohio home to Florida last year, claiming in an affidavit that her father had threatened to kill her because of her conversion.
 
SIOA says the “Leaving Islam” campaign was in part a reaction to a dawah (invitation to Islam) drive launched in late 2008, supported by CAIR and other Muslim groups.
 
For months, banners ran on buses in several parts of the country – including Florida’s Dade and Broward counties – describing Islam as “The way of life of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, & Muhammad” (in line with the Islamic precept that all major biblical figures were Muslim prophets.)
 
The dawah ads directed inquiring non-Muslims to a toll-free phone number and to a Web site where they were invited to convert to Islam. This site also offers welcome packages, a mentoring system, classes and conferences.
 
After Miami-Dade Transit pulled the “Leaving Islam” ads, Geller wrote, “So Muslims can run bus ads all across America inviting the clueless to convert to Islam, but we cannot make information available to Muslims who want to leave Islam. Still think this is a free country?”
 
On Wednesday, Spencer called the bus company’s reversal “a major victory for the freedom of speech and a disastrous defeat for the thuggish Islamic supremacists of CAIR.”
 
CAIR did not respond Wednesday to queries sent to its South Florida chapter office and to Malik’s personal email address.
 
The organization describes itself as “America’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization.” In 2007 federal prosecutors named it on a list of “unindicted co-conspirators” in a criminal conspiracy by the Holy Land Foundation to finance terrorism. (Five former Holy Land organizers were convicted the following year of providing support to Hamas.)
 
‘No compulsion’ vs. ‘Kill him’
 
Apostasy is a contentious issue in Islam. Although the Koran says “there is no compulsion in religion” (sura 2:256), the Islamic canonical tradition called the Hadith contains references to execution for apostasy.
 
In one Hadith (the Sahih al-Bukhari) Mohammed commands, “Any [Muslim] person who has changed his religion, kill him,” and in another (Imam Malik’s Muwatta) Mohammed specifies that the form of execution should be beheading.
 
CAIR’s stated position on the subject, outlined in a statement last year, is that “faith imposed by force is not true belief, but coercion.”
 
The statement included several Koranic references to back up that assertion, including the “no compulsion in religion” one, but said nothing about the various Hadith relating to death for apostasy.
 
Sudan, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and Mauritania are some of the countries where people have been formally accused or found guilty of apostasy.
 
Apostasy laws typically give an accused person three days to reflect before being condemned. “If he does not repent within this time limit, he is to be condemned to death as an apostate and his property will be confiscated by the Treasury,” states Mauritania’s criminal code.
 
In Afghanistan, a Christian convert named Abdul Rahman was sentenced to death in 2006 for apostasy, but after the U.S. and other Western countries with military forces deployed there put pressure on the Karzai administration, he was freed and allowed to seek asylum abroad.
 
Even in countries where conversions are not punishable by law, apostates often face hostility or violence at the hands of relatives, communities or Islamist radicals. The Barnabas Fund, a British-based charity working among Christian minorities in the Islamic world, says Muslims who change religions often face “a lifetime of fear.”

New Mexico School District Draws Fire for Fetus Doll, Bible Verse Ban

School district officials in Roswell, N.M., said religious discrimination was not a factor in their decision to stop Christian high school students from distributing baby dolls resembling fetuses on campus.

The Roswell Independent School District maintained that school regulation does not allow advertising or soliciting on campus. The baby dolls had a card attached to it with a Bible verse and contact information for a local pregnancy resource center.

“While it is accurate to say that the miniatures were tied with strips of ribbon with a Bible verse attached on a card, it is not accurate to conclude that any confiscations was on account of the verse,” the district stated in a letter to Liberty Counsel, the students’ legal representative, according to the Roswell Daily Record.

Liberty Counsel, a Christian legal group often involved in religious freedom and free speech cases, had sent a letter to school district officials in February saying the students’ right to freedom of speech were violated in the incidents.

Attorney David Corry said in the letter that the students were part of an area-wide religious youth group called Relentless in Roswell. The group is not affiliated with any school and has done many outreach and service activities in area schools during the 2009-2010 school year.

Relentless members, Corry said, have helped janitors with trash after lunch, given chicken salad lunches to teachers, provided hot cocoa to students and faculty, and passed out decorated rocks and candy canes to fellow students without needing to get approval from officials beforehand.

But when these students distributed small baby dolls with an attached Bible verse, “district representatives reacted with surprising opposition and force,” the students’ attorney wrote. The pro-life students had passed out the dolls in January and February during lunch.

Providing an example, the attorney described how the assistant principal at Goddard High made an announcement over the public address system warning students to not distribute anything without approval or risk disciplinary actions. Some students were held in detention.

But according to the Roswell Independent School District’s policies, Corry argued, the passing out of rubber babies with Bible verses does not require advance notice or approval.

An attorney for the Roswell Independent School District said in a response letter that the distribution of candy canes, hot chocolate and rocks without permission is different than the case with the fetus doll because the doll promoted the services of a pregnancy center.

“The fact that the alternate side contained a Bible verse is not relevant since the sides of the card could not be separated without destruction of the card,” contended the school district.

School officials also clarified that the only major disciplinary act was confiscating the “unapproved material.” Two students were held in a one-day Saturday school detention because they again distributed unapproved material.

Additionally, the school district complained that the fetus dolls disrupted studies on campus and pointed to an incident in an English class when some students ripped off the heads of dolls and said they were performing abortions.

Liberty Counsel and the Roswell school district are still in discussion over the case.

Courtesy of Christian Post at http://www.christianpost.com/article/20100409/n-m-school-district-draws-fire-for-fetus-dolls-bible-verse-ban/index.html

Universities and Colleges Speech Codes: ‘Anything you say can and will be used against you…’

 

What’s at Stake on the University Campus?
·   Whether students with beliefs that don’t agree with the prevailing orthodoxy of university elites will be free to participate in the campus marketplace of ideas without fear of punishment because of unconstitutional policies.
·   Whether the campus is to be open to free speech and lively debate or shut down by campus officials with the unlimited power to silence “unapproved” opinions.
·   Whether public universities will continue to enforce broad prohibitions on student speech merely because some might be “offended” by another’s ideas.
·   Whether the many universities under Third Circuit jurisdiction will continue to defy these decisions by refusing to alter their unconstitutional policies.

 

COLUMBIA, Tenn. — On behalf of students at five universities and colleges in Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, the Alliance Defense Fund sent letters Thursday to inform the schools of the need to revise restrictive “speech codes” on their books that do not comport with a ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit. That ruling, in another ADF case, DeJohn v. Temple University, determined that such restrictions on the free speech of public university students are unconstitutional.

Other schools within the 3rd Circuit are also not in compliance with the ruling. The five letters sent Thursday are the first in a series of letters that ADF plans to send to schools throughout the region.

“Christian students shouldn’t fear discrimination or censorship by university officials simply for expressing their beliefs,” said ADF Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco. “The 3rd Circuit has ruled that the kinds of ‘speech codes’ we see at these universities are unconstitutional primarily because they give officials an easy-to-abuse enforcement mechanism to punish any speech that they may decide is ‘offensive.’ These policies need to be revised to respect student free speech rights that are protected by the First Amendment.”

ADF together with Randall Wenger, Leonard Brown, and Demetrios Stratis–three of more than 1,600 attorneys in the ADF alliance–sent letters to Rutgers University, Delaware State University, Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and Westmoreland County Community College.

Some of the policies that are open to abuse border on the absurd, such as a “prohibited conduct” policy at Rutgers University that considers “harassment” to be something as minor as “communications…likely to cause annoyance.” The university also encourages students to report other students involved in “bias incidents,” which are investigated by the school’s Bias Prevention Education Committee, chaired by the director of the Office for Social Justice Education and LGBT Communities. The committee “addresses the University’s ‘Policy Against Verbal Assault, Defamation, and Harassment’ by monitoring the campus for bias incidents.” The university can then “reprimand, adjudicate persons who perpetrate bias acts.”

“Apparently, anything you say can and will be used against you,” said Wenger. “These kinds of rules regulating student speech effectively eliminate student speech. They are unconstitutional, and the 3rd Circuit ruling says such policies have to go.”

ADF is working with the Leadership Institute and Young America’s Foundation to protect free speech for students at public universities. 

ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.
 

Court Victory for Pro-Life Free Speech at Ivy League Brown University: Thomas More Society Wins Dismissal of Charges Against Pro-Life Advocate Who Challenged Rep. Patrick Kennedy’s Pro-Abortion Views

Contact: Tom Ciesielka, 312-422-1333, tc@tcpr.net

PROVIDENCE, RI, March 5 /Christian Newswire/ — Attorneys from the Chicago-based Thomas More Society, on the eve of the trial, won a victory in Providence municipal court this week when the city prosecutor decided to dismiss criminal charges against Christopher Young. Young, a Catholic pro-lifer who is also a Democratic mayoral candidate, was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct after confronting Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) about his abortion views at an advertised “open forum” on health care at Brown University last November.

Thomas More Society attorneys filed a motion to dismiss the charge of disorderly conduct, arguing that Young did not act in a disorderly fashion when he pressed tough questions to Rep. Kennedy and tossed a pro-life video on the desk in front of the Congressman, who quickly took and looked at the video. The video, Maafa 21, is a recently-released documentary on the history of the abortion industry and its targeting of African-Americans.

“This represents a victory for free speech, even when the view expressed gets an inhospitable reception. In this case, it was Young’s view that even a supposedly ‘unwanted’ infant is clothed with an inviolable dignity and endowed with an inalienable right to life,” said Tom Brejcha, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Society.

Brejcha continued, “Congressman Kennedy had opened the forum by arguing that all of us are ‘children of God’ who carry a ‘divine spark.’ Young was entirely within his rights under the First Amendment when he called Kennedy to task for supporting the mass demise of so many millions of unborn human beings — all of whom are no less bearers of a ‘divine spark’ and ‘children of God.'”

Brejcha concluded, “The Congressman’s stubborn insistence that he remains a faithful Catholic, while advocating both for abortion on demand and the suppression of conscience rights, is nothing less than living a lie. Brown’s actions also belied its claim to be a place where ideas may be freely discussed — even the idea that human dignity is universally shared. We urge Brown to heed the message of Salman Rushdie, who lectured at Brown on the eve of Young’s last scheduled court date, urging that all speakers be given the right to speak, even those whose views some find ‘detestable.'”

For more information or to speak with an attorney from the Thomas More Society, contact Tom Ciesielka at 312-422-1333 or tc@tcpr.net.  

About the Thomas More Society
Founded in 1997, the Thomas More Society is a not-for-profit, public interest law firm based in Chicago and dedicated to fighting for the rights and dignity of all human beings, from conception until natural death. The Society vigorously defends clients in state and federal courtrooms around the country, addressing vital issues across the pro-life spectrum, including pregnancy discrimination, end-of-life health care, the right of conscientious objection for medical workers, freedom of speech, free exercise of religion, and peaceable nonviolent protest.

As a public interest law firm, the Thomas More Society is a nonprofit, tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization, supported solely by private donations. Visit www.thomasmoresociety.org for more information.