A Christian legal advocacy group has claimed in a federal lawsuit that officials in a western Michigan city violated the rights of a self-proclaimed former terrorist by interrupting him during an event on free speech at a local high school.
The civil suit was filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids by the Thomas More Law Center. Besides Allegan officials, the defendants include leaders of a Muslim civil rights organization that asked the city to cancel the event.
According to the suit, a speech given Jan. 28 by Kamal Saleem at Allegan High School was stopped by police acting on a letter opposing Saleem’s visit. The letter was sent several days earlier by Dawud Walid, executive director of the Michigan branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
The suit also said that police were told of possible _ and unconfirmed _ threats against Saleem, said Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel for the Ann Arbor-based Thomas More center. Thompson said shutting down the meeting violated Saleem’s right to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.
Part of the “Constituting Michigan — Founding Principles Act” event’s purpose was to show “the internal threat to America posed by radical Muslims” and Shariah, the Islamic religious law, according to the lawsuit.
House Bill 4769, which would conditionally ban the use of Shariah or non-U.S. laws in state courts, also was to be discussed.
A group that brought Saleem to Michigan for the speech had been given earlier approval to use a room in the high school after school hours.
“The irony is this event was held to extoll the virtues of the U.S. Constitution,” Thompson said. “In the middle, you have the police coming in and shutting it down. The audience is shouting ‘What about free speech?’ ”
Allegan City Manager Rob Hillard declined to comment on the lawsuit and referred calls to an attorney representing the city. The Associated Press left a message Monday afternoon seeking comment from the attorney.
Saleem describes himself as a former member of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Muslim Brotherhood. He has spoken publicly against Shariah. He says he now is Christian and operates a ministry.
Walid said he sent the letter to the high school’s principal because Saleem’s message is divisive.
“We believe he is a bogus ex-terrorist. I’m saying he’s a total fraud,” Walid said. “If they want to sue me, then sue me for defamation of character.
“We view this lawsuit as a nuisance and form of trying to drain advocacy organizations of their resources. Advocacy organizations have freedom of speech to raise concerns about people who propagate divisive messages in the community.”
Thompson said Allegan officials “caved in” to pressure from Walid’s group.
“You are not controlled by what we call a `heckler’s veto,”‘ Thompson said. “It does not mean you shut down the people who are going to speak. You have to protect the people who are going to speak.”
About 150 people were in attendance at the Jan. 28 event before it was stopped. Forty or so heard Saleem finish at a nearby bowling alley, Thompson said.