In an attempt to amplify its anti-Muslim platform, ACT! for America has dubbed today Freedom of Speech Day. Local events have been scheduled in 257 locations across the United States, with clusters in some of ACT!’s regional strongholds, including Tennessee, Texas, and Southern California. The events vary in size and scope, but ACT! leaders hope participants will take the same message home: Americans must unite to defend the First Amendment in the face of Muslims and Muslim-friendly politicians conspiring to take it away.
ACT! leaders chose today, the 224th anniversary of the congressional passage of the Bill of Rights, to amplify their campaign to oppose U.N. Resolution 16/18. They say that this resolution will make speaking out against Islam a crime in the United Nations. However, the resolution reasserts the right to freedom of expression and encourages limitations of speech only when there is incitement to “imminent violence,” which is already in line with U.S. law.
Still, the populist anxiety that comes with a “foreign body” such as the United States threatening to “impose” a non-binding resolution is just too much for some ACT! leaders to bear, and they’ve issued a rallying cry for their members to fight back.
This paranoia begs the question: Exactly what kind of speech is ACT! trying to protect?
Here are a few examples:
“If a Muslim who has — who is —a practicing Muslim who believes the word of the Koran to be the word of Allah, who abides by Islam, who goes to mosque and prays every Friday, who prays five times a day — this practicing Muslim, who believes in the teachings of the Koran, cannot be a loyal citizen to the United States of America,” said ACT! for America founder Brigitte Gabriel.
“They do not have a First Amendment right to do anything,” John Guandolo said in reference to mosque leaders in Tennessee. Guandolo is regularly hired to train law enforcement officers and has partnered with ACT! to launch an anti-Muslim resource website for law enforcement agencies.
ACT! chapter websites and blog articles regularly refer to Muslims, immigrants and refugees as “savages,” “invaders,” “infiltrators,” and “barbarians.”
While these statements may enjoy legal protection, they aid and abet the formation of policies that affect the daily lives of Muslims in the United States.
One of the clearest policy examples is ACT!’s campaign to promote state-level anti-sharia legislation. It is ironic that ACT!’s preferred solution to the nonexistent threat of a sharia “takeover” is the suppression of an individual’s First Amendment right to freely practice his or her religion.
Inculcating dehumanizing rhetoric and codifying contempt against Muslims can do more than deem certain individuals unworthy of rights; such abuses of the First Amendment can suggest that some individuals deserve to be threatened or even attacked.
“Freedom of speech is a very important right that we have in this country, and we are the only country that enjoys this at the level we do because of our First Amendment,” said Guy Rodgers, ACT!’s executive director.
Rodgers is right. Freedom of speech is one of the hallmark values of American society. But, what makes the entire First Amendment so remarkable is that it applies to us all, not just those in protected classes.
The Muslim communities under attack should not have to stand up to ACT! alone. Public officials, educators, faith leaders and community members who do not support bigotry and discrimination must promote the responsible use of free speech and not tolerate or condone divisive and offensive discourse without a vigorous response.
ACT! for America member and others who abuse their freedom of speech to denigrate, dehumanize and discriminate against Muslims, immigrants and refugees must know that their brand of hate is not acceptable in a civilized society.