Drive to remove ‘anti-Islam’ billboard in Florida gains steam

By Leo Hohmann

This billboard message was first noticed last Friday by Becky Williams in her hometown of St. Augustine. She launched an online petition drive to get the owner to remove it but so far he has resisted saying it's a First Amendment issue of freedom of speech.
This billboard message was first noticed last Friday by Becky Williams in her hometown of St. Augustine. She launched an online petition drive to get the owner to remove it but so far he has resisted saying it’s a First Amendment issue of freedom of speech.

One woman’s drive to get a billboard message critical of Islam removed from her hometown is picking up steam but so far the billboard advertiser and the company that rented him the space are standing their ground.

A billboard in St. Augustine Beach, Florida, popped up last week with the message “Islam Bloody Islam: DOOMED BY ITS DOCTRINE!”

Becky Williams, a nearby resident, didn’t like the message and has started an online Care2 petition to get it taken down. As of 5:30 p.m. Wednesday the petition has accumulated 17,409 supporters from around the world including 3,648 people who claim to be Florida residents.

View the Care2 petition titled ‘Demand the Removal of Offensive Billboard!’

Williams said she was driving down Highway A1A near Seashore Avenue with her daughter last Friday when she first noticed the sign.

She said she disagrees with the “ignorance” and “hate” contained in the message.

“I want to let them know the billboard’s message does not speak for Saint Augustine residents. We are not a community that condones hate,” she wrote on the Care2 petition page.

“I was horrified that something so hateful would be put up in my community,” Williams further states on her petition. “No one should be forced to see this offensive message on their way to work or school or just going about their day…This billboard is not representative of how the people of St. Augustine feel about our Muslim neighbors.”

The person who purchased the billboard message remains unknown. Bob Harry, owner of the company that rents the billboard space, St. John’s Outdoor Advertising, told a local Fox TV affiliate that the message amounts to basic freedom of speech that is protected by the First Amendment.

Harry said the advertiser is an individual, not a corporation or group.

Watch Fox 30 report below:

[jwplayer CNc0PF70]

Don’t sit back and watch Shariah law creep into your community. Get Pamela Geller’s field manual for activists, “Stop the Islamization of America.”

But a surprising number of people believe the First Amendment only applies to speech with which they agree.

Many of the petition signers left comments on Williams’ Care2 petition saying they feel freedom of speech is “limited” to the extent that it does not cover messages like the one on the billboard.

Williams, reached Wednesday by WND, said she realizes there is a right to free speech in America.

“I launched the petition not to curtail anyone’s First Amendment rights but more as an immediate way to show support for the people being outcast by this sign and also to show that there’s another voice in our community,” Williams told WND.

“I completely agree with those people (who advocate for First Amendment rights) and think they have the most valid argument for keeping it up, and again the reason I’m spreading the petition is not to take away anyone’s freedom of speech but to give a forum to speak out for those who felt affronted by the sign because they are Muslim or feel the message besmirches the community where they’re from,” she added. “My first reaction, what I would have really loved to have done, would be to create our own billboard in response that shows a message of love and tolerance.”

Pam Geller
Pam Geller

Pamela Geller, a Jewish American who heads up the American Freedom Defense Initiative and authors the blog AtlasShrugs, said she has encountered similar attempts to silence free speech that is critical of Islam. She has run ads critical of Islam in public spaces in New York City only to find herself having to defend her First Amendment rights in court.

She sponsored a “Draw Muhammad” cartoon contest in Garland, Texas, last year and was the target of a jihad attack by two heavily armed Muslims who were killed in a shootout with police before they could get into the event, where they had planned to behead Geller and shoot as many of the other participants as possible.

“Muslims and Islamic apologists are working furiously to bring the oppressive Shariah state of hate to America,” Geller told WND. “Islamic law commands Islamic Jew-hatred, creed apartheid, gender apartheid, and criminalization of free speech. Everywhere voices of freedom and dignity speak, these fascists shut them down.

“This is just the latest battle in a long war that we are losing and that few even realize is being fought: the battle for free speech.”

Robert Spencer, an Islam expert and author of the Jihad Watch blog at the David Horowitz Freedom Center, said the left doesn’t practice what it preaches when it comes to tolerance.

“This is the response we always see from leftists and Islamic supremacists to speech they don’t like,” he said. “Rather than engaging in dialogue or debate, they try to get it forcibly shut down. They cannot argue their position on rational grounds, so they resort to force. In foreclosing upon any criticism of Islam, leftists in the U.S. are paving the way for the destruction of the First Amendment and the adoption of Shariah blasphemy laws – which Muslim organizations led by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation have been trying for years at the United Nations to intimidate Western nations into adopting.”

Williams told WND she is not a leftist ideologue who was trying to quell free speech.

“Like I said it’s a way for people to get engaged immediately and it would be wonderful if it were removed but I also think freedom of speech doesn’t preclude people from being able to have a response, and that can take many differ forms and this petition is just one way of doing that… I wanted the billboard company owner to see that he should give more forethought to what he presents to the community and that there is another voice out there on this issue.”

She said her intention was not to shut down free speech but to show support for other voices and for Muslims in the community who might feel “ostracized” by the billboard message.

She felt there was an “urgent need” for an “immediate response” to the negative ad and her petition drive has accomplished that, Williams said.

“I knew the county wouldn’t be able to do anything about it because of freedom of speech,” she said. “But there has been another side shown, immediately. Whereas getting the money to pay for another billboard with an opposite message would have taken at least another month.”

Williams said she has not read the Quran in its entirety nor examined the other Islamic texts but she believes the Muslim faith is no different from any other.

“I understand that (there are violent verses in the Quran), and I could make the argument that there are very violent verses in other religious texts, including the Bible, but that’s neither here nor there and I believe there are loving elements or texts in every religion as well,” she said.

“You can find fault with anything anywhere but that’s not where I choose to go, you know, because you can’t just paint an entire religion with a broad brush,” Williams added. “Just like it wouldn’t be right for someone to say all of Islam is bad, all of it is negative and violent, you can’t deny that people are using Islam for evil intent, just as people have used Christianity throughout history, again and again, and again.”

Many Florida residents have left comments next to their signatures. Here are a few:

• “While I do support freedom of speech, even in cases where a good majority will disagree with it, the wording and concept behind the message of the billboard causes needless conflict, and leaves no rational room for dialogue.” – Dan Pontello
• “People come from all over the world to visit historic St Augustine. This is NOT the global message we want to send to our tourists. This will absolutely have a negative impact on the city and its revenue.” – Kelli Kocak
• “It’s a giant banner of bigotry.” – Valerie Smithson
• “This billboard incites hatred towards Muslims, which is something that has no place in St. Augustine, a place that is and will continue to be very open to those of any religion.” – Isaac Barzso

Care2 (www.Care2.com) promotes itself as “a community of 34 million standing together for good. People are making world-changing impact with Care2, starting petitions and supporting each other’s campaigns to help individuals, animals and the environment.”

Don’t sit back and watch Shariah law creep into your community. Get Pamela Geller’s field manual for activists, “Stop the Islamization of America.”

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