FAILURE: CAIR’s censorship attempt in Knoxville, TN
“Public officials, and that includes public school officials, violate the free speech clause of the First Amendment whenever they censor speech merely because it offends someone… Unfortunately, we are seeing this trend grow as Muslim activists play the victim card.”
– William J. Becker, Jr., Freedom X’s president and general counsel (8/12/2014 Examiner.com)
At issue was an April 24, 2014 after-hours town hall meeting at a local area high school planned by the Knoxville chapter of ACT! for America . The event was to feature Dr. Bill French (aka Dr. Bill Warner), an expert on Islam, and Matt Bonner of Crescent Project, a Christian ministry reaching out to Muslims with the Gospel.
In late 2013, the Knoxville chapter of ACT! for America had requested and received approval to use Farragut High School for the planned event. In March 2014 a press release was sent to the local newspaper promoting the event.
Around April 8, 2014, the County School offices received an email from AbdelRahman Murphy, the University of Tennessee (UTK) Muslim Chaplain and director of “Roots” a Muslim outreach program. Murphy’s email characterized ACT! Knoxville as an organization with a history of engaging in hate speech
Around that same time as Murphy’s email, CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper sent a letter to Farragut High School Principal Michael Reynolds expressing concerns about the event calling ACT! for America a hate group and characterizing French as a bigot. The letter closed with:
We support the First Amendment right to free speech — even the kind of hate speech used by these speakers — but believe, because of the need for a safe and inclusive learning environment, that a school is not the proper setting such an event.
I therefore respectfully request that you review district policies to determine whether you high school is an appropriate venue for a potentially hate-filled program.
On April 11, 2014, the School system sent a letter to the Knoxville chapter of ACT! for America, rescinding the agreement for the April 24th event:
The administration at Farragut High School has express ed concerns to me about the disruption your event scheduled for April 24th is causing to the educational environment at the school.
The primary purpose of our school facilities is to provide a safe, healthy and comfortable learning environment for our students. When other uses of the facility begin to impinge on or interfere with the administrations ability to provide a suitable educational atmosphere, it is necessary for us to reconsider that use.
A local news station reported on the cancellation indicating the decision to rescind approval was because “some” said the event discriminated against Muslims.
On August 4, 2014 , a lawsuit was filed by the nonprofit law firm Freedom X on behalf of John Peach, president of the Knoxville chapter of ACT! for America, and Bill French against the school system in U.S. District Court, for violating their First Amendment right of free speech and their Fourteenth Amendment rights of equal protection and due process.
On October 1st, an out of court settlement was reached. According to wbir.com:
The sides officially reached an agreement Wednesday night. Under the terms, the county will pay out roughly $17,500 in attorney fees, administrative costs and monetary damages tied to advertising for the event.
In addition, the school board on Wednesday – under the terms of the settlement – amended its policy regarding the community’s use of school facilities.
COMMENT/ANALYSIS: CAIR frequently attempts to silence critics of Islam through intimidation or legal proceedings. In this case they managed to coerce the school system to do their bidding. CAIR’s input to the school system was most likely arranged by AbdelRahman Murphy, who served as an intern with the Communications Department at CAIR-Chicago in 2006. Murphy worked under the guidance of then communications director, Ahmed Rehab – the current executive director for CAIR-Chicago.
In addition to his work with “Roots” and as the Muslim chaplain at UTK, Murphy is the primary advisor to UTK’s Muslim Student Association and youth director of the Muslim Community of Knoxville (MCK). He makes appearances on the Muslim “talk circuit” and maintains a close relationship with Imam Suhaib Webb, of the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center (ISBCC).