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Lawmaker sues city, school officials alleging free speech violations

State Representative Dave Agema (R-Grandville) is suing officials with the City of Allegan, Allegan Public Schools, the Council on American-Islamic Relations and People for the American Way for allegedly violating his rights to free speech and assembly.

The case stems from an event scheduled at Allegan High School in late January 2012. The evening's guest was billed as a former Muslim terrorist who converted to Christianity.

Police shut the event down; citing safety concerns. But Agema says there were no safety threats.

A city attorney declined to comment for the story. But said this in a written statement:

“This lawsuit is disappointing in many ways. It is based on conjecture, logical fallacies, and, more disappointingly, factual inaccuracies. The plaintiffs did not even spell one of the defendants’ names correctly. It is disappointing that the lawsuit wrongly imputes motives to the police officers.”

The lawsuit names the city manager, police chief and other officers in their official capacities and as individuals. 

The lawsuit’s plaintiffs include Agema, ACT! For America chapter leader Elizabeth Griffin; Allegan County Commissioner Willis Sage (who rented the room for the event at Allegan High School); and Mark Gurley, one of the event sponsors (who paid for the speaker’s air fare). 

The complaint alleges the defendants worked in coordination to shut down the event, therefore violating their rights to free speech and assembly, the complaint said.

Dawud Walid is executive director of the Council of American-Islamic Relations. CAIR and People for the American Way co-wrote a letter to Allegan Public Schools’ superintendent before the event, urging him to stop Kamal Saleem from speaking at the school.

Saleen is a self proclaimed former Muslim terrorist who converted to Christianity and now warns Americans of the dangers of radical Islam.

There is controversy over whether Saleem’s story is true but he has spoken at dozens of similar event in Michigan before.

Erin Mersino is with the Thomas Moore Law Center, which is representing Agema and the other plaintiffs in the case.

“I personally do not have knowledge of if he’s speaking the absolute truth or not,” Mersino said, adding that she had heard from many people that the story is true. But she insists, “That’s not important. Cher has as much first amendment rights as someone who’s impersonating her. So it does not matter whatsoever. It is not an issue in this case,” Mersino said.

Walid believes Saleem is a “fraud” spreading a “message of bigotry”. He says the public school setting was not an appropriate venue for the event.

Walid says the claim that they worked with school and city officials is absurd. He says the group has full right to write a letter to public officials.

“We as civil rights advocates and people against defamation have a right under the first amendment to voice our concern. We have freedom of speech too,” Walid said. Mersino says without the “interference”, the information in the letter, the plaintiffs believe the event would not have been shut down.

Walid says Agema is just trying to score political points with conservatives.

Agema and CAIR are familiar opponents. CAIR has voiced its oppositionto Agema’s bill that would prevent the use of all foreign laws in Michigan courts. They’ve also sparred over whether Michigan should adopt an Arizona style immigration law.

In its filling, the Thomas Moore Law Center painted CAIR as an extreme group with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. The Center has alsorepresented Terry Jones, a Florida pastor who’s traveled to Dearborn, Michigan a number of times to denounce Islam (and sometimes burn Qurans). The Center “defends and promotes Judeo-Christian heritage and moral values” among other things.

Lindsey Smith helps lead the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Radio’s Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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