(Note: Expands and replaces earlier post)
MANCHESTER, Tenn. (AP) — The U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee tried to explain tolerance to an audience in Manchester. Most wanted none of it.
William C. Killian’s speech was constantly interrupted by boos and heckling Tuesday evening at the Manchester-Coffee County Conference Center.
The meeting was billed as “Public Disclosure in a Diverse Society” and was sponsored by the American Muslim Advisory Council of Tennessee.
The Chattanooga Times Free Press reported shouts of “traitor,” ”serpent,” and “go home” were directed at Killian by a crowd of more than 300 people. Others, who had staged a protest outside before the meeting, were angered at being turned away when the room reached capacity.
Some who remained outside hurled labels including “communist,” ”socialist” and “Muslim” at law enforcement officials who denied them entry.
Inside, Killian told the crowd hateful speech is allowed by law, but threats are not.
Southeast Tennessee U.S. Attorney Bill Killian and an FBI agent will speak at an American Muslim Advisory Council of Tennessee event in what he describes as “an educational effort with civil rights laws as they play into freedom of religion and exercising freedom of religion.”
A Politico blogger suggests his comments to the Tullahoma News on the event – including a remark that “everybody needs to understand” internet postings can violate federal civil rights laws – translate into “vowing to use federal civil rights statutes to clamp down on offensive and inflammatory speech about Islam.”
An excerpt from the Tullahoma News story: Killian said the presentation will also focus on Muslim culture and how, that although terrorist acts have been committed by some in the faith, they are no different from those in other religions.
He referred to the 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing in which Timothy McVeigh, an American terrorist, detonated a truck bomb in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995. Commonly referred to as the Oklahoma City Bombing, the attack killed 168 people and injured more than 800.
…Killian referred to a Facebook posting made by Coffee County Commissioner Barry West that showed a picture of a man pointing a double-barreled shotgun at a camera lens with the caption saying, “How to Wink at a Muslim.”
Killian said he and Moore had discussed the issue.
“If a Muslim had posted ‘How to Wink at a Christian,’ could you imagine what would have happened?” he said. “We need to educate people about Muslims and their civil rights, and as long as we’re here, they’re going to be protected.”
Killian said Internet postings that violate civil rights are subject to federal jurisdiction.
“That’s what everybody needs to understand,” he said.
And from the Politico post: While threats directed at individuals or small groups can lead to punishment, First Amendment experts expressed doubt that the government has any power to stop offensive material about Islam from circulating.
“He’s just wrong,” said Floyd Abrams, one of the country’s most respected First Amendment attorneys. “The government may, indeed, play a useful and entirely constitutional role in urging people not to engage in speech that amounts to religious discrimination. But it may not, under the First Amendment, prevent or punish speech even if it may be viewed as hostile to a religion.”
“And what it most clearly may not do is to stifle political or social debate, however rambunctious or offensive some may think it is,” Abrams said.
A conservative watchdog group, Judicial Watch, accused the Obama administration of using federal law to specifically protect Muslims from criticism.
At least nine state legislators have signed up for a trip next month to Azerbaijan and Turkey that is financed by groups with ties to a famous Muslim imam, according to WTVF-TV. Five legislators went on a similar trip last year. In the waning days of this year’s legislative session, lawmakers debated whether proposed changes to the state’s campaign finance laws would open the door to foreign influence.
“If you want to know who contributes to my campaign, it’s as easy as the click of the mouse,” said Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, a Smith County Republican.
Still, what you won’t find online — and what Weaver did not mention — is that, in late May, a select group of state lawmakers will be jetting off for a 12-day, all-expenses paid trip, landing first in Azerbaijan, then heading a few days later to nearby Turkey.
The invitations came from a group called the Turkish American Chamber of Commerce of the Southeast — with the money coming from a sister group called the Turquoise Council of Americans and Eurasians.
Both groups have ties to a movement headed by a moderate Muslim imam named Fethullah Gulen.
…(Memphis Republican Rep. Mark) White is one of the nine lawmakers who have accepted the invitation to go on the trip.
Others, according to a list provided to NewsChannel 5, are:
Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville; Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown; Rep. Vance Dennis, R-Savannah; Rep. Roger Kane, R-Knoxville; Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis; Rep. Joe Towns, D-Memphis; Rep. Johnnie Turner, D-Memphis; and Terri Lynn Weaver.
Tennessee Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons has also agreed to go, as has his assistant commissioner David Purkey.
…Fethullah Gulen has generally drawn praise for his moderate religious views and his message of tolerance. Time Magazine just named him to its lists of the 100 most influential people in the world.
But a U.S. State Department cable published by Wikileaks describes his movement as being one that “officially professes to be interested in ecumenical understanding, but whose roots are intensely Islamic.”
As 60 Minutes reported last year, the movement is also behind a secular network of science and math charter schools that began in Turkey and has now spread to the U.S.
One of those is in Memphis.
…House Education Committee Chairman Harry Brooks, a Knoxville Republican who has been helping to coordinate the upcoming trip, keeps in his office mementos from both Azerbaijan and Turkey from a trip he accepted last year. Brooks said that there were five Tennessee lawmakers on that trip.
Other lawmakers, according to Brooks, were: Sen. Reginald Tate, D-Memphis; Rep. Joe Armstrong, R-Knoxville; Rep. Josh Evans, R-Greenbrier; and Rep. Gary Odom, D-Nashville.
It was trip that Brooks described as part economic development, part goodwill.
“What we gain is, one, an understanding of a society that wants to be a friend to this country,” he added.
But Brooks insisted that charter schools were never discussed.
Republican Sens. Bill Ketron and Jim Tracy are concerned about Muslim schools receiving taxpayer funding through the voucher legislation now pending in the General Assembly, reports the Murfreesboro Post. “This is an issue we must address,” state Sen. Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville) said. “I don’t know whether we can simply amend the bill in such a way that will fix the issue at this point.”
State Sen. Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro) and Tracy each expressed their concerns Friday over Senate Bill 0196, commonly called the “School Voucher Bill” and sponsored by fellow Sen. Mark Norris (R-Collierville), which would give parents of children attending failing public schools a voucher with which to enroll in a private school.
State monies that would otherwise be spent on educating the student in public schools would then be diverted to qualifying private schools to pay private tuition for the student, in whole or in part.
Islamic schools throughout the state, including Nashville and Memphis where several of Tennessee’s lowest performing schools are located, would qualify to receive such students under the state-funded voucher program.
One such Islamic school, the Nashville International Academy, states that its vision is “to create a positive learning environment where students are committed to the teachings of the Quran and example of Prophet Muhammad.”
The school is located on Charlotte Pike and is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, which qualifies it as a Category III private school through Tennessee statutes.
Other such schools include the Clara Muhammad School, a division of the Nation of Islam that operates a school in Nashville among its 74 other locations, and the Anoor Academy of Knoxville.
By Eric Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Sometimes a mop sink is just a mop sink.
Building managers and legislative staffers have sought to reassure some concerned Tennessee lawmakers that recent renovations at the state Capitol did not install special facilities for Muslims to wash their feet before praying.
“I confirmed with the facility administrator for the State Capitol Complex that the floor-level sink installed in the men’s restroom outside the House Chamber is for housekeeping use,” Legislative Administration Director Connie Ridley wrote in an email. “It is, in layman’s terms, a mop sink.”
The nearly $16 million renovation completed in December focused on upgrading electrical, mechanical and plumbing systems in the more than 150-year-old Capitol. Parts of the building also got new carpets, paint and security upgrades.
Senate Clerk Russell Humphrey said he had been approached by a House and Senate member to inquire about the sink, which replaced a utility sink that had been mounted higher on the wall and was used for filling and emptying buckets.
“There was concern about why it had been modified,” said Humphrey, who declined to identify the lawmakers or elaborate on their concerns.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Gov. Bill Haslam on Tuesday issued his strongest defense yet of a Muslim aide who has been criticized for once working in the field of Shariah compliant finance.
The Republican governor was asked after a speech to a Nashville Republican group whether he was incorporating elements of Islamic law into state government. Such criticism emerged after the Haslam administration earlier this year hired Samar Ali to work in the Department of Economic and Community Development.
Haslam said Ali, an attorney who grew up in Waverly and was student body president at Vanderbilt, has done nothing to deserve criticism.
“Samar is someone quite frankly — and I know some people in this room disagree with me — who I think has been incredibly unfairly maligned,” Haslam said.
“She is somebody who was making a whole lot more money somewhere else, loved Tennessee, wanted to come back here and be a part of it,” he said.
Before her White House fellowship, Ali worked for Hogan Lovells US LLP, where she was a founding member of the firm’s Abu Dhabi office and specialized in international business issues and Shariah compliant transactions. Shariah law forbids the giving or receiving of interest and requires deals to be based on tangible assets. Earning money from companies involved with alcohol, tobacco, gambling and pornography is also off limits.
Tennessee has also been the scene of a two-year battle over a proposed mosque in Murfreesboro.
A group of neighbors sued to try to stop construction, claiming, among other things, that local Muslims were compelled by their religion to try to overthrow the U.S. Constitution and replace it with Islamic law.
It’s not the first time the Haslam administration has sought to dispel allegations that it was furthering Islamic interests, a claim posted on a billboard near the state Capitol.
Haslam deputy Claude Ramsey in August wrote a letter to GOP leaders denying that the state was involved in the promotion of any religion.
“I want to start by clearly expressing there is no effort by the Haslam administration, the State of Tennessee, or any agency or department of the State to promote or advance Shariah law or Shariah complaint finance,” Ramsey wrote in the letter.
— Note: Samar Ali recently characterized the attacks as ‘silly’ but ‘hurtful.’ Post HERE.
Samar Ali, whose appointment as an international trade specialist in the Department of Economic and Community Development touched off a round of criticism earlier this year, has been personally silent on the situation while defended by Gov. Bill Haslam and others in the administration. (A previous story, HERE) But she was interviewed by Dave Flessner for a story in Sunday’s Chattanooga TFP. Ali, who grew up in Waverly, Tenn., and was once student president at Vanderbilt University, said such attacks were “hurtful.” But she called them “silly” and untrue. The 30-year-old lawyer said she has been pleased by the support of the Haslam administration and others across the state as she tries to expand the international reach of the state’s products and services.
She says she is focused on expanding the state’s trade offices around the globe and working to boost exports from Tennessee by 10 percent in each of the next five years.
“I really believe that adversity does introduce you to yourself,” she said during a recent visit to Chattanooga. “I joined this administration because I really love Tennessee and believe in Gov. Haslam’s vision and leadership.”
Haslam administration officials have stood by Ali and her trade efforts despite her critics.
Clint Brewer, assistant commissioner in the state Department of Economic and Community Development, called Ali “one of the brightest leaders of her generation from this state.”
“Her extensive work experience in international business makes her eminently qualified to serve the people of the Volunteer State,” he said.
Ali earned both an undergraduate and law degree from Vanderbilt University where she was the first Arab-Muslim student president and spoke out against terrorism after the 9/11 attacks on the United States.
“I left Tennessee when I was 25, but no other place felt like home — it’s in my soul,” she said during the recent visit. “My family, which is very important to me, is here, and I want to be a part of something that I believe in. I had three months of some people who were upset with my background. But I decided that that wasn’t going to erase my good memories and why I came back and why I was here.”
Ali is here to boost both exports from Tennessee companies and investments in the state from foreign firms. She is working to open new state-funded trade offices in Britain, Mexico, Germany, China and India to help Tennessee businesses export around the globe.
Tennessee’s efforts are being aided by a 3-year federal grant, which rose this year to $610,000, to support the trade offices, trade missions and a new Tennessee Trade Academy.
Ali believes such programs can help businesses of all sizes to sell more of their goods around the globe and boost the state’s $30 billion-a-year of export sales.
Stewart County Republican Party Chairman Kyle Mallory says Gov. Bill Haslam’s greatest failing is that “he hasn’t cleaned house” by ridding state government of Democrats and homosexuals in key positions and by hiring a Muslim.
Mallory is one what he described as “10 or 12 Republican activists” urging county party organizations to adopt resolutions condemning Haslam and urging the Republican State Executive Committee to take some action against the governor.
His home county party has done so, including a concern over homosexuals working in the Department of Children’s Services.
At least seven other county GOP organizations have also adopted resolutions criticizing Haslam, though at least two restrict their criticism to the hiring of Samar Ali as director of international marketing with the Department of Economic and Community Development.
Governor Bill Haslam has offered support for a state official whose religion has come under fire by some anti-Muslim groups, according to WTVF TV.
Samar Ali is a Tennessee-born Muslim who graduated from Vanderbilt law school and recently accepted a position as international director on the state’s Economic and Community Development department. That appointment came under fire by the The Center for Security Policy and the 8th District Tea Party Coalition, groups who also opposed the mosque in Murfreesboro. When asked about his stance on the issue, Haslam said that freedom of religion is guaranteed in our country, and that he looked forward to working with Ms. Ali.
“Samar is a highly qualified person, who has taken a role with our Economic Development Department . She comes with a great track record and a lot of experience and we think she’ll be a great employee for the state of Tennessee,” said Haslam.
Tea party and anti-Muslim activists are taking aim at a recent hire by the administration of Gov. Bill Haslam, targeting one of its top economic development officers based on her religion and past work experience, reports Chas Sisk. The Center for Security Policy, a Washington, D.C., organization that has frequently attacked Muslims for perceived ties to Islamist groups, and the 8th District Tea Party Coalition, an umbrella organization of West Tennessee tea party groups, have urged their members to pressure Haslam and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty to dump Samar Ali, an attorney appointed last month as the department’s new international director.
The groups depict Ali as an Islamic fundamentalist with close ties to President Barack Obama.
The claims are spurious and ECD has no intention of firing Ali, said Clint Brewer, a department spokesman.
“She’s eminently qualified to do the job,” Brewer said. “We are lucky to be able to have her.”
The pressure campaign, which began last Thursday with a posting on a Center for Security Policy blog, does not appear to have been effective.