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Temple Terrace Resident Joins CAIR Advocates at Rally

The rally was organized by Hillsborough County conservative groups to protest the school board's policy permitting groups such as CAIR to speak at public schools.

Estefania Galvis said she felt compelled to stand up for the Muslim community at a rally Tuesday (Sept. 11) at the Hillsborough County school district headquarters in Tampa.

A Temple Terrace resident and  student, Galvis attended the rally with fellow students as a member of Students for a Democratic Society and Tampa Against the War on Terror.

“9/11 should be a day of remembrance. Not a day to spread hate,” she said. “We want to spread a message of peace.”

The rally, intended to protest the Hillsborough County School Board’s policy to allow organizations such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations to speak at public schools, drew demonstrators on both sides of the controversy to the district headquarters steps.

The rally was part of a daylong 9/11 remembrance organized by conservative groups including the Community Issues Council, the Education Coalition, the Tampa 912, the Tampa Tea Party and the Pinellas Patriots. The group kicked off the remembrance with a prayer vigil at Joe Chillura Park in downtown Tampa and then headed over to the school district for the CAIR protest.

There, they were met by a crowd of CAIR members and supporters like Galvis, brandishing signs accusing the conservative groups of racism, restricting free speech and establishing an environment of hate.

“I think it’s ridiculous what they’re trying to do,” said Sulphur Springs resident Brittany Hallmark. “Everybody has a right to speak. They’re sending a bigoted message.”

The controversy stems from a presentation that Hassan Shibly, executive director of the Tampa CAIR chapter, made to a world history class at Steinbrenner High School last year. Upon learning about the presentation, Brandon resident and school board candidate Terry Kemple appealed to the Hillsborough County School Board in April to adopt more stringent policies on who it allows to speak to students, asserting that CAIR is linked to terrorism.

CAIR denies any link to terrorism. Its website says it is an organization created to challenge “stereotypes of Islam and Muslims” and provide “an Islamic perspective on issues of importance to the American public.”

The school board upheld its policy on speakers in the schools.

“It’s important for our students to be exposed to diverse viewpoints,” said school board chairwoman Candy Olson, noting that the board didn't take the issue lightly.

“The board had a long workshop and many of us did our own research,” said Olson. “After that workshop, we distributed guidelines for teachers concerning speakers, including a guide on religious speakers.”

She said the guidelines made it clear that the teacher must follow these guidelines when recruiting a speaker and that the teacher must be in the classroom at all times.

“Speakers have a great value in engaging students. I've had students tell me the Holocaust was nothing but names and dates until a survivor spoke to them and showed them his tattoo,” said Olson. “I’m concerned about teachers being reluctant to have speakers in to enrich students. And I don’t believe a student can be indoctrinated in an hour or two hours.”

On Tuesday, Kemple said he wasn’t surprised by the turnout of CAIR supporters at the protest rally.

“I expected them to make a showing today,” he said. However, he said the Community Issues Council and other groups are not going to back down on the issue.

“We’ve been at this for eight months now,” he said. “This issue is not going away. The school board can’t keep burying its head in the sand.”

But residents like Michael Freincle of Brandon fear a policy banning CAIR from speaking in schools will lead to a prohibition of other religious and cultural groups.

“I’m Jewish and I’m American,” said Freincle. “And, as an American, who benefits from religious pluralism, I’m here to stand with my Muslim brothers and sisters. They’re not trying to convert students. I think sharing cultures and other topics of knowledge can benefit students.”

Lucinda Johnston September 13, 2012 at 11:11 AM
Our country was founded by people who were looking for freedom to practice religion. I don't agree with Islamic treatment of women but then I don't agree with many Christian beliefs either. What I do believe in, and would fight to defend, is the absolute right to practice whatever religion we choose. I don't think it's a good idea to have any religious speakers in public schools, but to single out one group is wrong.
Joan Staehle September 14, 2012 at 07:39 PM
I don't know what the solution is to this issue, but I do know that CAIR has absolutely been linked to funding terrorist activities. This includes CAIR members in Hillsborough County. This is not a rumor. It is historical fact. What someone posts on a website and the claims they make there do not prove anything whatsoever. Actions speak louder than words.

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