John Peach vs. Knox County Schools alleges that Knox County School officials and Superintendent Jim McIntyre canceled an April after-hours presentation at Farragut High School that was to center around Sharia Law and its increasing acceptance in the United States due to complaints from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). “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,” said William J. Becker, Jr., Freedom X’s president and general counsel. “Unfortunately, we are seeing this trend grow as Muslim activists play the victim card.”
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of John Peach, director of the Knoxville chapter of ACT! for America, a group founded by Lebanese immigrant Brigitte Gabriel. Act! for America describes itself as a "non-partisan, non-sectarian organization whose mission is to give Americans concerned about national security and terrorism a powerful, organized, informed and mobilized voice.”
Apparently giving Americans that voice doesn’t sit well with CAIR. Prior to the event, CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper sent a letter to Farragut High School Principal Michael Reynolds insisting that the scheduled speakers— Dr. Bill French, aka Bill Warner, an expert on Islam and the Koran, and Matt Bonner, Knoxville chapter director of the Crescent Project, a Christian group that engages in Muslim evangelization—were “bigots.” Hooper further claimed that the event itself
will be viewed as having the endorsement of school officials and has the potential to promote bullying and to create a hostile learning environment for Muslim students. It may also serve to create a negative impression of Islam and Muslims in the minds of students of all faiths.
Hooper then claimed he supported 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 for such an event. I therefore respectfully request that you review district policies to determine whether you (sic) high school is an appropriate venue for a potentially hate-filled program.
After receiving Hooper’s letter, a school official told CAIR that "Farragut High School does not support this event, nor do we share the presenters’ views.” Soon after, the invitation was rescinded.
Knox County Superintendent Jim McIntyre explained the decision. “The primary purpose of our school facilities is to provide a safe, healthy and comfortable learning environment for our students,“ he said in a statement. "When other uses of the facility begin to impinge on or interfere with the administration’s ability to provide a suitable education atmosphere, it is necessary for us to reconsider that use.”
That CAIR has any political traction whatsoever is a testament to what Freedom X describes as “creeping Sharia.” In a June 2009 ruling arising from the 2008 trial of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF), during which five HLF official were convicted of 108 counts of abetting terrorist organizations, Judge Jorge Solis revealed that CAIR had ties to Hamas. "The government has produced ample evidence to establish the associations of CAIR, ISNA, NAIT, with NAIT, the Islamic Association for Palestine, and with Hamas,” it stated. Solis agreed with CAIR that his ruling should have remained sealed based on Fifth Amendment protections, but he refused to remove references to CAIR from the trial record. "CAIR's status as a co-conspirator is a matter of public record,” he explained.
In an unfortunate twist in the story, the Internet media group PRWeb, an organization that boasts of having a network of 30,000 journalists and the ability to get stories featured on “major local and national news sites,” has attempted to suppress this information about CAIR. When Becker sought to get the story of Freedom X’s lawsuit disseminated to a wider audience, and included the published references of CAIR’s ties to Hamas in his press release, PRWeb refused to run it.
Emails from August 4 and 5 provided to Frontpage by Becker reveal that PRWeb informed Freedom X that their press release had been "put on hold” because the website's editors had determined that it "appears to be intended to exact personal revenge or harm a person or group” and that CAIR’s association with Hamas “did not contain attribution.” On August 5, another email from PRWeb indicated that Becker had in fact provided attribution, however, PRWeb nonetheless informed Becker that the press release had to be revised to remove "potentially harmful material:”
Please strike the following from your press release:
"CAIR, which is affiliated with Hamas, a foreign terrorist organization (see Order of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas in United States v. Holy Land Foundation (04-CR-0240) found here and published on 07/01/09. Since 10/8/1997 Hamas has been classified by the U.S. State Department as a Foreign Terrorist Organization), has a practice of complaining about events critical to Islam in order to silence speakers, something the complaint alleges the organization didi (sic) in this case," Becker said.
Speaking with Frontpage, Becker noted the irony of an organization dedicated to disseminating information demanding the same “sanitization” that CAIR demands. "Playing directly into the hands of the censors” prevents the public from being properly informed, Becker noted.
To add insult to injury, PRWeb elected to publish a press release from CAIR that denounced the ACT! For America Knoxville chapter and vilified scheduled speaker Bill French. This leaves little question that PRWeb's censorship was not done to avoid "potential harm" but out of an animus toward Freedom X and its client.
As the case filing explains, Becker seeks to “protect and vindicate fundamental Constitutional rights,” because the defendants have “adopted and enforced an unconstitutional policy that restricts protected speech in a public forum.” It also seeks a “permanent injunction enjoining the enforcement of Defendants’ Speech Restriction.” Becker also wants “nominal damages,” attorney fees and expenses.
The lawsuit was timed to coincide with the beginning of the new school year. “We have a lesson to teach the teachers,” Becker explained.
“The First Amendment protects speech some might not want to hear but school officials are sworn to uphold the Constitution and to allow it. They were tricked into censoring American citizens wanting to exercise the freedom of speech that distinguishes America from Muslim nations.”
Becker deserves credit for giving the defendants the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps a better term than “tricked” might be “capitulated,” much in the same manner as that of Brandeis University president Frederick Lawrence who shamefully rescinded an honorary degree that was offered to Somali-born women’s rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali. CAIR was part of the mob who pursued that recision, with CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad referring to Ali as an "anti-Muslim bigot” with "hate-filled and extremist views.”
Becker sees the bigger picture. “Muslims in America led by CAIR, which is affiliated with Hamas, a foreign terrorist organization, are exploiting our laws to erode everyone else’s freedom of speech,” he warned. “It’s part and parcel of a greater plan to eventually make us into an Islamic caliphate.”
Courageous truth tellers like Freedom X and John Peach are determined to prevent that from happening -- opposition from public school educators and the mainstream media notwithstanding.
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