Ginny Brown-Waite has made a political career of knowing how to choose her battles. From breaking ranks with her party about suing tobacco companies while a state senator, to opposing the government’s interference in the Terry Schiavo feeding tube controversy, to supporting federal funding of stem cell research, the congresswoman has often been a shrewd and courageous legislator constituents can count on to be concerned and candid.

But the 63-year-old Republican from Brooksville stained her reputation last week when she defended the indefensible comments of a well-known Hernando County couple who callously insulted an entire religion. By mischaracterizing the controversy as an issue of free speech, and allowing her apparent grudge against an individual to cloud her judgment, Brown-Waite has fanned the flames of bigotry and discredited the 5th Congressional District.

In a long-winded, antagonistic letter, Brown-Waite condemned the Council on American-Islamic Relations and executive director Ahmed Bedier for asking her to denounce comments made by Mary Ann and Tom Hogan Sr., an interim Hernando County commissioner. The Hogans are leaders of the local Republican Party. Mary Ann Hogan, who initially complained about a county employee delivering rented children’s toys to an event at the local mosque, wrote a letter to the editor in which she said that Islam is a “hateful, frightening religion,” that Muslims are “barbarians” and that “helping to promote the Muslim religion is immoral and un-American.” Her husband echoed his wife’s comments, and both have rejected pleas to apologize.

Gov. Jeb Bush, governor-elect Charlie Crist and the head of the Republican Party of Florida, Carole Jean Jordan, along with the balance of the Hernando County Commission, have decried the Hogans for brazenly stereotyping all followers of Islam.

Instead of addressing the essence of the mean-spirited comments, Brown-Waite is portraying the issue as an attempt by CAIR to quash the Hogans’ constitutional right to free speech.

She also is lashing out at Bedier, with whom she apparently has a history of confrontation and distrust. In the process, she repeats some of the same stereotypes as the Hogans and casually dismissed their skewed opinions by saying only their remarks “do not encourage harmony in the community.” That is an understatement.

No one, including CAIR, has questioned the Hogans’ First Amendment right to free speech. But that right applies to everyone equally, including CAIR and Brown-Waite. At the same time, the congresswoman must realize that with the high office she holds comes the expectation that she choose her words carefully and that those words do not malign whole groups of her constituents.


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