Free speech to counter hate speech - Dove World Outreach Center incident
Posted Aug 27, 2009

Free speech to counter hate speech - Dove World Outreach Center incident

by Sheila Musaji

There has been an interesting ongoing story out of Florida.

Last month the Dove World Outreach Center, a church in Gainesville posted a sign on their lawn that read “Islam is of the devil”. [1], and as I pointed out at that time, Christian brotherly love seems difficult for some to obtain.  The sign drew protestors [2] and national attention.  The Dove World Outreach people posted a statement as to why they had put up the sign [3] but the statement did not answer any questions in my mind.

A member of the Muslim community met with the pastor in an unsuccessful attempt to ask him to take down the sign [4]

This week with young people going back to school, the center decided to have tee-shirts made repeating the “Islam is of the devil” message and have students in the elementary, middle, and high schools wear them to school.  So far, all of the schools involved have asked the students to either change into another shirt, cover the shirt, or go home.  School district staff attorney Tom Wittmer said the shirts violated a district ban on clothing that may “disrupt the learning process” or cause other students to be “offended or distracted.”  [5]

Parents of the children have said that they believe this is an issue of free speech, and the Center’s pastor suggested that America is a Christian nation. [5a].  I certainly can’t help but wonder, however, how they would feel if other students were wearing shirts that insulted their religious beliefs, or their race, or their educational level, or any of a number of other possibilities.  Would it be appropriate for someone to wear a tee-shirt in a public school insulting Jesus or Christianity?  How about a tee-shirt with a racial slur, or anti-semitic slogans, or nazi insignia? 

The Sun Sentinel in Florida published an article which called the actions of the Dove Center “offensive” [6].  And, judging by the comments people have left about this article as well as other articles [7], this is very much a “hot button” issue.  Excerpts from a few of the comments include such gems as:

”... if you’re not Christian, you don’t believe in the devil…so it doesn’t really bother you.”  “... We Americans are paying the price for not recognizing the terrible nature of the Islamic religion.”  “... This is America for crying out loud—if you don’t want freedom of speech, move to Iran.”  “... Don’t forget…after 9/11..not even ONE Muslim Cleric denounced these shameful acts. What does that say? They Muslims rejoiced in it…PERIOD.”  “... the Bible teaches that GOD the FATHER, SON and HOLY GHOST is the ONLY and ONE true GOD! All other idols and gods are works of the devil. jews, mohamedians, unitarians, libersls, pagens, hindos, feminests, budists ecterata should not be allowed to walk around in this country because their mission is that of corrupting our precious youth with their doctrians of secular humanist HATRED for JESUS CHRIST.”  “... The Bible also mentions enemies and Islam is the enemy of the free world.” “... the book his Muslims use state that it wants to distroy all other that don’t beleive as they do. Muslim’s are still trying to fight a war that ended in the 1600’s and they lost. He should remember that as per his “Koran ( 9:11 ) - For it is written that a son of Arabia would awaken a fearsome Eagle.. The wrath of the Eagle would be felt throughout the lands of Allah and lo, while some of the people trembled in despair still more rejoiced; for the wrath of the Eagle cleansed the lands of Allah”.”  “... Christianity preaches kindless and love IDIOT!!”  “... JESUS didnt “love” prostitutes or jews or the democrat party or mexicans or homophiliacs! HE loves AMERICA the RED WHITE and BLUE above all else! HE would not ever let any of you to come into our cuntry when HE elects HIMSELF as the president.”  “... Islam is of the Devil, so what’s wrong in schools teaching the truth?”

The tee-shirts have certainly stirred up a hornets nest of prejudice, self-righteous indignation, confusion, repetition of old lies, and poor spelling.

Just for the record:  - Muslims do believe in the devil.  - Muslims have spoken up loudly and clearly against extremism and terrorism and have specifically denounced the terrible events of 9/11 [8]  -  All those “jews, mohamedians, unitarians, libersls, pagens, hindos, feminests, budists ecterata”  who are Americans are equal under the law and under the Constitution to Christian Americans.  The Constitution protects the rights of all.  America is not a Christian nation [8a]  -  There is no verse at 9:11 or anywhere else in the Q’uran that talks about an eagle,  fearsome or otherwise.  This statement is from an email hoax which anyone can check out at Urban Legends [9] or by reading the actual verse which is about repentance. 

(Actually, these claims and charges are so common that The American Muslim has a series of article collections that debunk such nonsense -  Responses to Claims Made ABOUT Islam and Muslims in General - Responses to Claims Made ABOUT Qur’an Verses, Arabic Terms, Prophet Muhammad  - Responses to False Claims ABOUT Muslim Individuals & Organizations & Incidents Involving Muslims- Responses to Actual Extremist Statements & Incidents of Extremism or violence BY Muslims- Responses to Claims Made BY Specific Individuals and Organizations About Muslims) and our full Resource Collection which includes large collections of articles on many different topics.

The First Amendment prohibits the government from limiting speech, but there are exceptions for things like defamation or inciting to riot, and for harassment.  Whether or not the message on these shirts falls into those categories is for courts to decide.  I do know that public schools are for all children, and no child should be expected to deal with speech that degrades, insults or frightens them.

Issues like this one raise a lot of questions.  Is there any point at which free speech becomes hate speech and might be curtailed?  Are there any limits to free speech?  Are some locations different than others for freedom of speech (e.g. the workplace or schools).  People can believe anything they want - but is there any limit on the public expression of their beliefs.  Does it make any difference what group is being disparaged?  Just because you have the right to say anything you want, does that mean it is always the right thing to do?

There is no way to know what the motives for this strange display of “Christian” love might be, however, The Dove World Outreach Center property is up for sale for $4 million [10] perhaps all the controversy is just to draw attention to the site.

There are no clear guidelines at this point in time, but it is certain that the least we can do is counter such hateful speech with more speech.  If those whose message is negative and hateful have a right to speak their “minds”, then the rest of us also have the right to let them know what we think of their speech.

You can write, call, or email the Dove World Outreach Center and let them know how you feel about their free speech at:  5805 NW 37th St., Gainesville, FL 32653 - 352-371-2487 - .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Please do not descend to their level and insult them.  Try to keep comments reasonable and honest.

“VERILY, those who have attained to faith [in this divine writ], as well as those who follow the Jewish faith, and the Christians, and the Sabians -all who believe in God and the Last Day and do righteous deeds-shall have their reward with their Sustainer; and no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve.”  Qur’an, 2:62.

“And unto thee [O Prophet] have We vouchsafed this divine writ, setting forth the truth, confirming the truth of whatever there still remains of earlier revelations and determining what is true therein.  Judge, then, between the followers of earlier revelation in accordance with what God has bestowed from on high, [65] and do not follow their errant views, forsaking the truth that has come unto thee. Unto every one of you have We appointed a [different] law and way of life.  And if God had so willed, He could surely have made you all one single community: but [He willed it otherwise] in order to test you by means of what He has vouchsafed unto, you.  Vie, then, with one another in doing good works! Unto God you all must return; and then He will make you truly understand all that on which you were wont to differ.”  Qur’an 5:48

“And, behold, there are indeed some among them who distort the Bible with their tongues, so as to make you think that [what they say] is from the Bible, the while it is not from the Bible; and who say, “This is from God,” the while it is not from God: and thus do they tell a lie about God, being well aware [that it is a lie].”  Qur’an 3:78

”[But] they are not all alike: among the followers of earlier revelation there are upright people,  who recite God’s messages throughout the night, and prostrate themselves [before Him].”  Qur’an 3:113

“And, behold, among the followers of earlier revelation there are indeed such as [truly] believe in God, and in that which has been bestowed from on high upon you as well as in that which has been bestowed upon them. Standing in awe of God, they do not barter away God’s messages for a trifling gain. They shall have their reward with their Sustainer - for, behold, God is swift in reckoning!”  Qur’an 3:199