A Victory for Free Speech and Free People

In a notable victory for the freedom of speech, a U.S. District Court judge has ruled that Detroit's SMART bus system must run my religious liberty bus ads offering help to people wishing to leave Islam safely, without having to live in fear.

This victory has been a long time coming. SMART initially refused to run my ads back in the spring of 2010. Despite the desperate need for resources for Muslims under threat for leaving Islam, the city of Detroit refused to run our freedom campaign on the Dearborn and Detroit buses. In May of that year, my group, the American Freedom Defense Initiative, sued the city of Detroit for refusing our ads -- the same ads that were dropped and then allowed on free speech grounds in Miami, and which ran without legal challenge in New York City and San Francisco.

But in Detroit, they caved to Islamic supremacism and violated their own ad guidelines of freedom of speech. Here is SMART's first guideline for bus ads:

As a governmental agency that receives state and federal funds, SMART is mandated to comply with federal and state laws.  First Amendment free speech rights require that SMART not censor free speech and because of that, SMART is required to provide equal access to advertising on our vehicles. 

What's more, contrary to claims from the Hamas-tied Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and other Islamic supremacists that the ads were "offensive," the need for them was obvious. According to the Washington Times, a teacher in Dearborn noted that there was "a climate of fear in the Detroit area's community." The educator explained: "The fear is palpable. I know there are things I am ‘not allowed' to say. A discussion of religion with a Muslim person is often prefaced by the statement, ‘Don't say anything about the Prophet [Muhammad].' In free society, open and honest conversation is not usually begun by a prohibition. Threats and intimidation are just part of life here."

SMART was saying that our ads offering help to those threatened for leaving Islam were political. They were effectively admitting that Islam was political -- an admission that had immense implications (far beyond, I'm sure, what Detroit imagined). If Islam is political, it ought to be subject to the restrictions and scrutiny to which all political entities in the U.S. are subject. This could open the door to a reevaluation of the unthinking assumption that Islam is simply a religion like Judaism or Christianity, and transform anti-terror efforts that are now hamstrung by the all-too-common idea that all that goes on in mosques is purely "religious."

In our AFDI motion to compel SMART to run our ads, we explained: "The fact that society may find speech offensive is not a sufficient reason for suppressing it. Indeed, if it is the speaker's opinion that gives offense, that consequence is a reason for according it constitutional protection."

I flew to Detroit to testify in the suit back in July 2010. David Yerushalmi and Robert Muise, who is with the Thomas More Law Center, represented me. I was armed with hundreds of pictures of honor killing victims; the testimony of ex-Muslim teenager Rifqa Bary, whose life was threatened; screenshots of Facebook fatwas on apostates, and the actual death fatwa issued at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, the most important institution of Islamic law in the Sunni world and the authority that approved the revealing English-language guide to the Sharia (Islamic law) known as Reliance of the Traveller.

Reliance of the Traveller is a one-volume manual of Sharia. (The title implies that this is a handy compendium of Islamic law so that when you're on the road, you know how to behave in unfamiliar situations.) It is a product of the Shafi'i school of Islamic jurisprudence, which is one of the four Sunni schools of Islamic law. It is all the more valuable because it often notes how the other schools, the Maliki, Hanbali and Hanafi, differ from Shafi'i rulings where there is a difference. And on apostasy they all agree: those who leave Islam must be killed.

The judge in the case promised a decision the following week (July 2010), but didn't rule until late March 2011, when Judge Denise Hood finally ruled in our favor.

This was a huge win, not just for us, but for the First Amendment, and a defeat for all those who claim that I am a hater because I am willing to talk about what is wrong in Islam -- including, as in this case, honor killings and fatwas for apostasy. Judge Hood protected free speech and did not take any swipes at my message, which she could have (such as saying, "While we might despise AFDI's message, we must protect it..."). She did not do that. Good for her.

I was thrilled, not just for the protection of free speech, but for those living in danger who will be helped by our freedom buses.

Those ignored and abandoned people were the ones who really won this victory.
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