Bill Killian, a U.S. Attorney, recently made a highly controversial statement to a local newspaper -- he claimed that he planned to fight Islamophobia with Federal civil rights laws. Now, Killian might be facing heat from the right, as some, like Jihadwatch, are claiming that the entire Obama Administration is in cahoots to protect Muslims.
On June 4, the FBI office in Knoxville, Tennessee and Bill Killian, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee, will be holding a meeting with Muslim leaders in the area.
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."
But Killian has an uphill battle. Hate speech is protected under the First Amendment.
"People are free to hate, as long as they don't act on it," Killian told ILLUME. "Hateful statements directed at another will be used as evidence in a hate crime."
Killian cited a hypothetical example of two individuals posting on a social media site, planning to vandalize a mosque at a specific time. In that case, the comments and statements made by those individuals on social media could be used as evidence.
"It's when you conspire to violate someone's constitutional right to practice their religion-- that's what we're talking about. By no means are we prosecuting anyone in violation of the First Amendment," states Killian, inisisting that he had no plans to prosecute people solely for making hateful comments.
There is no specific federal law that prohibits hate speech, per se. And while there might be laws that prohibit hate crimes, the line between hate speech and hate crimes has been defined fairly well, under existing law.
Where that line is blurred is when hate speech incites another to violence. The First Amendment is broad and applies to a variety of speech, even speech otherwise found reprehensible.
"If someone threatened an individual Muslim, then I think that the speech could be shot down as speech that is threatening to someone," Dr. Charles Haynes, a senior scholar at the First Amendment Center, told ILLUME.
But not all speech is incitative to violence. And as for Councilman West's Facebook photo, many would agree that his conduct is protected, under the First Amendment.
"I don't think it's illegal to be ugly like that," said Haynes, when asked about West's Facebook post, "the threat has to be much more specific-- it has to be a direct threat."
Killian's office also made the following written statement to ILLUME:
"This community forum is an educational effort to inform the community about civil rights laws as they play into the exercise of religious freedom. Our purpose is to simply facilitate discussion towards the goal of greater tolerance, understanding and peaceful community relations, as well as to inform the public about what federal laws are in effect and what the consequences are for violating them, including what speech is protected and what speech could be considered a threat under the law."