By John Clarke
WASHINGTON, April 24 (Reuters) - A state lawmaker launched an online campaign on Friday to overturn a decision to cancel a screening of "American Sniper" at the University of Maryland after a Muslim student group objected to the film about a U.S. Navy marksman in Iraq.
Neil Parrott, a Republican state delegate, said the decision to cancel the screening at the university's College Park campus was an exercise in political correctness and infringes on First Amendment rights to free speech.
"The university should not let the complaints of a few students result in the cancellation of an important film honoring an American hero and accurately portraying the horrors of war," Parrott said in a statement.
The university's Student Entertainment Events organization announced the cancellation on Wednesday. The school said in a statement Thursday it was not involved in the decision, saying the student-led panel was responsible.
The university's Muslim Students Association said in a statement that the movie, directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Bradley Cooper, is offensive war propaganda that spreads unjustified fear of Islam.
"This movie dehumanizes Muslim individuals, promotes the idea of senseless mass murder, and portrays negative and inaccurate stereotypes," the statement said.
Warner Bros Pictures, which distributes the film, declined to comment.
The film tells the story of Chris Kyle, a U.S. Navy Seal sharpshooter credited with 255 kills during his service in Iraq. It was scheduled to be screened May 6 and 7.
The hit 2014 movie won an Academy Award for Best Sound Editing. It was nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Actor for Cooper.
"American Sniper" has drawn widespread criticism over its depiction of Muslims, and protesters have objected to screenings of the movie at several U.S. campuses.
There were four arrests after 40 protesters disrupted an April 10 screening at Eastern Michigan University. The screening was canceled as a result.
On the same night, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York canceled a screening after protests.
On Wednesday, a Muslim student group at Northern Illinois University in Dekalb protested the film because they say it misrepresents Muslims and wrongly glorifies war veterans.
"I consider veterans and our military to be the real terrorists," Umraan Syed, president of the Illinois school's Muslim Student Association, wrote on its Facebook page.
Students at the University of Texas in Arlington plan to protest a screening Friday night. (Editing by Frank McGurty and David Gregorio)