Bagley School District reverses October decision: Anti-Islamic speaker to speak at school this weekend
BAGLEY, Minn. -- The First Amendment and what speech falls under its protection is at the forefront of a decision by the Bagley School District to allow the appearance of a controversial speaker this weekend.
Usama K. Dakdok, a Christian speaker, self-described expert on Islam and the founder of the Straight Way of Grace Ministry, will speak this weekend at the Bagley High School Auditorium about the religion of Islam.
Dakdok, who was born and raised as a Christian in Egypt before coming to the United States in 1992, claims Islam is a "cult" and a danger to Christians.
"With the wisdom God gave me I know how bad the disease of Islam is," Dakdok said.
This weekend will be the second time in less than a year Dakdok has visited Bagley. In October 2013, he was invited to speak by community member Tammy Godwin after she attended an event by an Imam, a Muslim religious leader. Godwin said she felt the Imam was untruthful at the event and wanted to invite Dakdok so he could provide a different perspective.
“I felt that people in the area needed to hear the truth about Islam,” Godwin said.
While Dakdok was originally scheduled to speak at the Bagley School auditorium in October, the location of the speech had to be relocated to the Calvary Evangelical Free Church after the school district reversed its decision to let the pastor rent the auditorium.
"We asked to change the venue to the church because the speaker did not appear to coincide with school district policy," Steve Cairns, superintendent of Bagley Public Schools, told the Pioneer shortly after the decision was made.
The district's decision at that time came after receiving a letter from the Minnesota Council on American-Islamic Relations, which claimed allowing Dakdok to speak at the auditorium would be in violation of the district's harassment and violence policy and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin in programs which receive federal assistance.
According to the Act, "Simple justice requires that public funds, to which all taxpayers of all races (colors, and national origins) contribute, not be spent in any fashion which encourages, entrenches, subsidizes, or results in racial (color or national origin) discrimination."
Now, less than a year after the decision, the school district has changed its position to allow Dakdok to speak at the auditorium.
Paula Davis, president of the school board, said the school district is just following its rental policy, but did not want to further comment on the reversal decision citing legal reasons.
"We really can't talk about it," she said.
Helen Kennedy, principal of Bagley High School, declined to comment on the subject and Cairns was unable to be reached for comment.
The school's decision to allow Dakdok to speak at the auditorium may be due to a threat of legal action against the school district.
The Bemidji Pioneer obtained a Nov. 21, 2013, email sent to the Bagley School Board from a lawyer named Richard L. Mast Jr. from the Liberty Counsel, a public-interest law firm specializing in church-state and political speech matters. The email told the school board if it did not reverse its decision, then "further steps to prevent irreparable harm" to Dakdok would be taken.
The email also said the assertion that Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 would be violated by having Dakdok speak in a limited public forum at the school auditorium was “laughable.”
In a Dec. 27, 2013, press release from the Liberty Counsel, Matt Staver, founder and chairman of the law firm, said the decision by the school board to take advice from CAIR and reject Dakdok from speaking would be contrary to the First Amendment.
“Contrary to CAIR's assertions, the District's suppression of the constitutionally protected speech of Mr. Dakdok at the insistence of a biased Islamic group which disagrees with his message is unconstitutional,” Staver said in the release.
Dakdok said the school knew it would lose the case if it was pursued further.
“The school had no right to stop me,” he said.
Imbrahim Hooper, the CAIR national communications director, said he was surprised by the school board's reversal and worried about the message it would send to Muslims in the community.
"We're strong supporters of the First Amendment. Our issue is when these hate-mongers are hosted in schools," said Hooper, pointing to a 2012 video which shows the pastor making anti-Islamic statements at a tea party-sponsored event at an Ohio high school.
Dakdok claims the video was edited to unfairly portray him. He also responded to criticism from the Islamic organization, claiming they want to deny him his First Amendment rights.
"CAIR is nothing but jihadis that wear suits and ties," he said.
Jaylani Hussein, interim director for the Minnesota branch of CAIR, said he is concerned with Dakdok's message inciting fear and violence against Muslims in the community. According to Hussein, CAIR-MN has been in contact with leaders in the Bagley and Bemidji communities and plans to host a range of events in the near future to promote a discussion on Islam.
"It's important that the community step forward and denounce this speaker," Hussein said.
Dakdok said he doesn't hate Muslims, but he does hate the religion they follow.
"I love Muslims, I love CAIR, I hate Islam," he said.
Dakdok will be speaking at 6:30 p.m. Saturday through Monday in the Bagley High School Auditorium. A free-will donation will be taken.