A Meeting on Tolerance Turns into a Shouting Match

Sabina-Mohyuddin-nprby Blake Farmer, NPR

The public meeting in Manchester, Tenn., about 70 miles from Nashville, was supposed to address and tamp down discrimination toward Muslims there.

But instead it turned into a shouting match.

Bill Killian, the local U.S. attorney who organized the meeting, told the people in attendance that hate speech was not protected by the First Amendment. Over the last few years, there have been tensions between Muslims and many Christians in Tennessee. A Coffee County commissioner recently posted a picture on Facebook of a man with one eye looking down the sights of a shotgun, with the caption: "how to wink at a Muslim." The photo went viral.

Killian never directly referenced the Facebook post. But he did say that someone didn't have to follow through for a threat to be a hate crime. "If someone makes threats of violence, that is not protected speech, and they will be prosecuted," he said.

At first, Killian tried to keep from talking over the hecklers. One attendee yelled "traitor!" at him as he spoke. But as they went on, he gave up and kept his head down, following his prepared remarks on the lectern as hundreds in Manchester, Tennessee, shouted "go home" and called him a "serpent."

He slipped out of the meeting and declined to comment about his remarks.

The heckling didn't stop with Killian. An FBI agent who spoke and Muslim advocate Sabina Mohyuddin were greeted with jeers.

"In 2007, a mosque was burned down in Columbia, Tennessee," she said. But many in the crown cheered that statement. "Shame on you," Mohyuddin said in response.

Three men were convicted of hate crimes in that case.

Ibrahim Hooper of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said the mood at the meeting felt like people should be carrying "pitchforks and torches." (Read the full article)