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United Methodist Women Unveils D.C. Anti-Hate Ad

Sabrina White speaks at a press conference.
Sabrina White of the Baltimore-Washington Conference speaks at a press conference highlighting the interfaith position against hate speech.

By Jeneane Jones

United Methodist Women believes freedom of speech must include freedom from hate speech in the nation’s capitol. On Monday October 15, standing shoulder to shoulder with members from Jewish, Muslim and other Protestant faith communities, representatives of United Methodist Women made the next stop on a transit line protest to respond to anti-Islamic ads now appearing in metro stations in Washington, D.C.

Green and white signs denouncing hate speech began showing up in subway stations in New York City earlier this month and on Monday morning were being displayed in stations across the Washington, D.C., metro area. The signage counters an inflammatory and Islamophobic ad campaign put out by American Jewish blogger Pamela Geller and her organization. Her campaign attacks the Islamic community, stating that “in any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel and defeat Jihad.” Geller and her organization have been labeled a hate group by the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

At the Monday press conference, Sabrina White, speaking on behalf of the almost 800,000 members of United Methodist Women, told reporters at the United Methodist building on Maryland Avenue that if one woman can purchase ad space designed to disparage Muslims and “set up an entire group of people for public contempt,” then women of faith would provide an alternate message. “The United Methodist Women ad campaign has a simple message: ‘Hate speech is not civilized. Support peace in word and deed. United Methodist Women: faith, hope, love in action.’”

White, who serves on the national program advisory group of United Methodist Women noted that the use of the term “savages” in the Geller ad campaign continues a painful history of the American nation, as it was used to justify massacres against Native Americans and the slavery of African Americans.

“As a nation we are still struggling to recover from the devastating impact of hate speech. Yes, with our great Constitution comes the freedom of speech. We urge everyone to also exercise our even greater responsibility to use wisdom when we speak.” White spoke along with Senior Rabbi Bruce Lustig of the Washington Hebrew Congregation; the Rev. J. Herbert Nelson, director of the Office of Public Witness of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); and Imam Mohamed Magid, president of the Islamic Society of North America. Imam Magid challenged Geller to be aware that the Islamic community is supported by partners in the faith community who stand with them and against hate speech of any kind.

The anti-hate ad campaign is now in place in New York City and Washington, D.C., and is supported by United Methodist Women and a coalition of 28 faith-based groups organized by the organization Shoulder-to-Shoulder: Standing With American Muslims, Upholding American Values campaign. Together they are calling for concerned citizens to add their names to an online petition that calls for the profits made by the transit authorities to be invested in human rights initiatives in local communities.

Geller’s ads first appeared on the San Francisco, Calif., public transit system and was met with protest and action. Top San Francisco city officials released a joint statement saying that although Geller’s ad is protected by the First Amendment it has “no value in facilitating constructive dialogue or advancing the cause of peace and justice.” Proceeds from the ads were donated to the San Francisco Human Rights Commission.

Shoulder-to-Shoulder is seeking similar responses from New York City and Washington, D.C., city and transit authority officials, arguing that profiting from language that demeans or belittles others must not be tolerated. White concluded her press conference remarks by sharing the prayer from Psalm 19, which states, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”

Last Updated: 04/07/2014

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