Detroit transit sued for nixing ‘Leaving Islam?’ ad

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A bus-ad campaign that seeks to offer resources to those considering leaving Islam already has stirred up controversy in Miami and New York, but its next city may create the most fireworks - Detroit, the U.S. metropolitan area with the heaviest concentration of Middle Easterners.

The Detroit-area bus authority has refused to run the ads from Stop Islamization of America, an organization headed up by conservative activist and anti-jihad blogger Pamela Geller, prompting SIOA to file a federal lawsuit Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.

Mrs. Geller said the transport authority’s refusal to run her ads violates her First Amendment right of free speech, and she will take the lawsuit to the Supreme Court if necessary.

“It is against the law, and I tell you, those ads will go up whether they like it or not,” Mrs. Geller said.

SIOA initially encountered a similar refusal in Miami, but Mrs. Geller said a lawsuit prompted the transport-authority there to relent in less than 24 hours.

Several calls to the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation, which operates the bus system serving Detroit and two surrounding counties, were not returned Thursday.

Dawud Walid, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations of Michigan, said he expects that even if the ads do run in Detroit, they will not elicit any response besides puzzlement. The Detroit area, centering on Dearborn, is home to a quarter-million Muslims, whom Mr. Walid does not expect to react favorably to the presence of SIOA’s ads in their city.

“If she’s planning to put those Islamophobic ads in Detroit, she’s wasting her time,” Mr. Walid said.

The Detroit area also has a large Arab and Middle Eastern Christian population, centering on suburbs north of the city proper.

Mrs. Geller said SIOA began its national city-by-city ad campaign in response to bus ads in Florida inviting people to convert to Islam.

The SIOA ads read, “Fatwah on your head? Is your family or community threatening you? Leaving Islam? Got Questions? Get answers!” and provides a Web address that links to organizations that serve Muslim apostates. The bus ads are running in Miami through June 15 and began running in New York last week and will run through late June, Mrs. Geller said.

Part of the conflict centers on whether Muslims are free to leave Islam without retribution, and whether their families will punish or kill them for conversion.

One such case that has made national headlines in the U.S. involves 17-year-old Rifqa Bary, who fled her parents’ Ohio home to stay with a Florida Christian minister after she converted. In the ensuing custody and foster care disputes, her Muslim parents deny that the girl will be harmed if she returns home.

Abdul Rahman, an Afghan citizen, was arrested in 2006 for converting to Christianity there, and members of his family asked prosecutors to seek the death penalty. But the international outcry over Mr. Rahman’s case, and the fact that the Afghan government was installed by the U.S. invasion - plus doubts about the case and Mr. Rahman’s sanity - combined to prompt the court to release him.

The consensus view among Muslim jurists worldwide is that apostasy, unless mitigated by such factors as mental illness or duress, is punishable by death. Mrs. Geller cited a fatwa, or ruling point on Islamic law, issued by the authoritative Al-Azhar University in 1978, that said: “This man has committed apostasy; he must be given a chance to repent, and if he does not, then he must be killed, according to Shariah [law].”

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About the Author
Michal Elseth

Michal Elseth

Michal Elseth is an intern with the National Journalism Center working in commentary and national news for the summer. She graduated in May with a Bachelor of Arts in English from Hillsdale College. Michal loves D.C. and life as a graduate, but she is actually from the other Washington and hopes to work in journalism there. 

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