Firebombing of Jacksonville Area Islamic Center Highlights Need for Religious Tolerance, ACLU Says

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
May 12, 2010 12:00 am

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Officials with the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida today expressed outrage at the recent firebombing of the Islamic Center of Northeast Florida. The apparent hate crime was carried out on Monday night, May 10, 2010. The Islamic Center is a respected safe space of cultural and spiritual refuge for thousands of Muslims in Jacksonville and its surrounding communities.

“Every American has the fundamental right to practice his or her own religion without fear of persecution,” said Benétta Standly, ACLU of Florida Northeast Regional Office Director. “Whether someone practices Islam, Christianity, Judaism, any other religion or no religion at all, it is one of the bedrock freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights.”

Racial and religious tensions have been highlighted by this and other recent events in Jacksonville, such as when the Jacksonville City Council took part in inappropriate questioning of Muslim community leader and scholar Professor Parvez Ahmed during confirmation hearings when he was appointed to serve on the local Human Rights Commission.

“This is not an issue for just one community or another—this is an issue that affects everyone in our community, and we must deal with it. The answer to despicable violent acts such as these is to preach tolerance and work together as a community to build bridges, not firebombs,” Standly added.

The heinous act is frighteningly reminiscent of the hatred and violence exposed during the Civil Rights Movement in places like Birmingham, Alabama, and St. Augustine, Florida.

“Hate crimes have no place in our society and must be condemned and punished appropriately,” said Muslima Lewis, Director of the ACLU of Florida’s Racial Justice Project. “We call upon law enforcement to fully investigate and prosecute this heinous crime. In the meantime, there is a lot of work to do to encourage religious and racial tolerance – we must all come together to work toward this goal.”

The ACLU hopes to work closely with the Islamic Center of Northeast Florida in immediate and long-term efforts to promote an inter-faith community dialogue on tolerance and religious freedom.

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