Anti-Islam speeches in Bagley decried
- Article by: Jennifer Brooks
- Star Tribune
- June 23, 2014 - 9:35 PM
A controversial preacher was scheduled to speak again in Bagley, Minn., Monday night about his belief that Islam is a dangerous cult, despite protests and appeals to the local school district to ban the event from school grounds.
“With the wisdom God gave me I know how bad the disease of Islam is,” Usama Dakdok told the Bemidji Pioneer last week, after the school district reversed course and allowed him to rent the Bagley High School auditorium for his three-day event.
The district, which did not respond to repeated calls and e-mails Monday, was threatened with lawsuits after it turned down a previous request last October.
A Muslim woman who attended one of Dakdok’s speeches over the weekend reported that she was harassed by the speaker and his audience, prompting renewed calls for the district to shut down the event.
“We support freedom of speech, and that freedom includes the right to peacefully listen to even hate speech without fear of being set upon by an angry and threatening mob,” Lori Saroya, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations of Minnesota, said in a statement Monday.
CAIR, a civil rights and legal advocacy group for Minnesota Muslims, described the speech as a “hate event.”
“People were yelling at the Muslim woman, ‘Get out’ and ‘You weren’t invited,’ ” the CAIR news release continued.
The woman, who had participated in a protest outside the venue before the Sunday speech, walked into the auditorium carrying a protest sign, said Bagley Police Chief Larry Peterson, who was called to the school before the speech started and stayed for the duration.
“One side of the coin said she was looking for a seat. The other side of the coin said she was protesting,” Peterson said.
“But nothing got physical. No threats. No mob,” Peterson added. “It was just a discussion initiated by both parties and both parties were participating.”
There was tension, however, when Dakdok opened the floor to questions at the end of his speech, Peterson said.
“The other side of the coin came up and started asking him questions,” Peterson said. “Things got somewhat heated. After the program had ended and everyone had left, there was just a handful of both sides of people, who were having discussions and some of the locals were partaking in it. When it became loud, I told everyone they had to leave.”
Dakdok, who runs the Florida-based Straight Way of Grace Ministry, tours the country, giving similar speeches about his belief in the dangers of Islam.
He was originally invited to speak in Bagley in October, but the speech was shifted to a local church after the school district reversed its original decision to allow him to rent the auditorium.
“We asked to change the venue to the church because the speaker did not appear to coincide with school district policy,” Steve Cairns, superintendent of Bagley Public Schools, told the Bemidji Pioneer at the time. “The appropriateness of the conversation appeared to be more in tune with the church.”
Jennifer Brooks • 612-673-4008
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