A town hall forum tonight will give the public another chance to grapple with the issue of prejudice and hate.

If you can’t make it, you can watch it on television.

The Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is organizing the forum, slated to begin at 6 p.m. in the commission chambers of the Hernando County Government Center, 20 N. Main St.

The forum also will be televised on Hernando County Government Broadcasting Channel 19 on the Bright House cable system.

The event, like a similar one hosted by CAIR in Brooksville last November, is meant to educate the public on the contributing factors and consequences of hate crimes, said Ahmed Bedier, executive director of CAIR’s Tampa chapter.

Like the November event, today’s forum will feature some high-ranking law enforcement officials to talk about the definition, investigation and prosecution of hate crimes.

Slated to attend are Carl Whitehead, special agent in charge for the Federal Bureau of Investigations; Lance Newman, special agent in charge for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement; and Capt. Michael Maurer of the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office. Bedier also will sit on the panel.

CAIR holds the forums throughout the country but the group zeroed in on Hernando County last year in the wake of the furor sparked by the comments of Mary Ann Hogan, wife of former county commissioner, Tom Hogan Sr.

Mary Ann Hogan called Islam “a hateful, frightening religion,” comments that her husband, who was an acting county commissioner at the time, supported.

The comments drew widespread condemnation, but there were many in the county who supported not just the Hogans’ speech rights but also their sentiments.

CAIR also became concerned after Spring Hill blogger Vilmar Tavares posted an entry on his site encouraging readers to kill all Muslim children to prevent terrorism. The original author, another blogger named Frank Fleming, said the essay was satirical and meant to ridicule such extreme viewpoints.

Tavares never commented on the controversy to the media. He later quit blogging after the host company shut down his site when CAIR complained.

“That reignited the debate about people’s right to free speech and what is hate speech, and so we had an interest to return (to Hernando County),” Bedier said.


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