A Tuesday press conference in Tampa, Florida, criticizing a local Islamic leader's school appearance was interrupted by protesters denouncing the organizers for using hateful rhetoric.
WTVT-TV reported that the gathering, involving the "Education Coalition" of a local Christian organization, the Community Issues Council (CIC), was intended to protest local school officials for allowing Hassan Shibly, the head of the local chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim advocacy group, to speak to high school students about Islamic history last year.
The CIC has been one of several groups that has teamed with the Tampa Tea Party in denouncing Shibley's appearance.
However, another group of demonstrators interrupted the press conference, with several of them engaging in heated conversations with the CIC's protesters.
"Let's be clear: hate, racism is not acceptable in this country, it's not acceptable on this school board," one unidentified counter-protester said, his voice amplified by a megaphone.
The press conference was also part of a local Tea Party rally designed to get the school board to adopt a pledge seemingly named after former Fox News host Glenn Beck's "9/12 Project," which he first promoted in 2009.
The "9/12 Project Pledge," as it's called, attacks CAIR as one of several organizations "that have been linked to terrorism by the FBI and in Federal Court are, at minimum, highly controversial." One of the organizers of the press conference, CIC president and school board candidate Terry Kemple, features the pledge on his website, which he says "all sitting School Board members and challengers" were asked to sign.
"It's part of that stealth, quiet -- one little step at a time -- jihad that's being waged against America, that we need to stand up against," Kemple said Tuesday.
The foundation's leaders were found guilty in 2008 of funneling $12 million to the militant group Hamas. In 2010, a federal appeals court ruled that the "co-conspirator" label be removed from CAIR and the other organizations named in the case.
At its meeting following the press conference on Tuesday, however, the school board decided not to adopt any new policies regarding guest speakers.
"I consider it a victory for the community," Shibly told the Tampa Tribune. "I think the issue is over. If they want to keep hating, that's fine."
Last month, the Tampa Bay Times slammed the pledge in an editorial.
"The made-up controversy over guest speakers in the public schools shows how far some Hillsborough County tea party activists will go to throw the entire school system in reverse," the editorial said. "This campaign is aimed not solely at censoring the voices of Muslims in this community. It stands as a warning shot to the board that a vocal minority not entirely sold on public education in the first place wants to micromanage the eighth-largest school district in the country."
WTVT's report on the debate regarding Shibly's appearance, aired Tuesday, can be seen below.