As President Barack Obama embarks on his second term in office, many on the right are still shouting that he's sympathetic to Muslims. Now, in light of recent issues, such at the IRS targeting of Tea Party groups and most recently, US Attorney Bill Killian's promise to use Federal Civil Rights laws to fight Islamophobia, those voices have fodder to become even louder.
But what is real law and what is partisan politics? Where is that line drawn? And more importantly, where does Obama stop taking the blame for his agencies and subordinates?
The Bill Killian Islamophobia Crack Down
Bill Killian, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee might now be facing heat from the right, as some, like Jihadwatch, are now claiming that the entire Obama Administration is in cahoots to protect Muslims.
Others are saying that Killian (and by affiliation, the whole Obama Administration) are out of line and crossing the boundaries of what is protected speech.
Killian and the FBI special agent from the Knoxville office will be speaking this week with the Muslim community in Knoxville, Tenn., to give them a "know your rights" seminar.
As Killian told the Tullahoma News, this June 4 seminar is an "educational effort with civil rights laws as they play into freedom of religion and exercising freedom of religion."
The seminar, held in collaboration with the American Muslim Advisory Council of Tennessee, is largely in response to a recent Facebook posting by Coffee County Commissioner Barry West. In that posting, West pictured a man pointing a double-barreled shotgun at the camera, with the caption reading "How to Wink at a Muslim."
In a phone interview, Dr. Charles Haynes of the First Amendment Center that Killian's argument seemed thin, at best.
"It's a mystery to me," he said, when asked which law he thought U.S. Attorney Killian was referring to.
Dr. Haynes mentioned that in the absence of a direct threat, there wasn't much federal law out there that would prosecute hate speech. But Killian told Illume that he didn't plan to prosecute hate speech-- rather, he intended to use comments made via social media as evidence in hate crime cases. As he told Illume, the First Amendment says people are free to hate-- so long as they don't act on it. Read the entire legal analysis at Illume.
The IRS Tea Party Scandal
Perhaps no issue has thrown the Obama Administration into the line of fire as harshly as the recent IRS Tea Party investigation. While the IRS has been saying that the targeting was caused by some rogue agents in Cincinnati, Rep. Darrel Issa, Chairman of the House Committee of Oversight and Government Reform, told CNN on Sunday that this scandal went way up-- all the way to Washington.
Still, others jumped on a recent article by a nonprofit attorney, taking it grossly out of context and using it to claim that Obama was using the IRS to push his apparent "pro-Muslim" agenda. (Read the article here ).
In short, the Obama Administration doesn't direct the IRS agents on Cincinnati. And for anyone who has filed a tax exemption application with the IRS before, the application is typically in the hands of a low level IRS agent.
As for any proposed or threatened prosecution of hate crimes and hate speech, there are aspects of law that would -- and should-- protect individuals from being targets of hate crimes. But statements on giving "know your rights" seminars to Muslim communities are a necessary step to promote tolerance, as Killian stated in a press release made to Illume. For the opponents of these measures to be up in arms is premature.
And once any particular case involving hate speech is taken to the courts, if Killian actually prosecutes anyone merely for hateful speech (which he's said he won't, in a telephone interview to Illume), you can bet it won't go down without a fight; and possibly even in the Supreme Court.