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Councilman's use of 'Jesus' in prayer leads to legal questions

Florida Times Union, April 28, 2010

Jacksonville City Councilman Don Redman said he was trying to prove a point about religious freedom when he asked a Muslim man to pray during Tuesday's council meeting.

But Redman's own prayer at the beginning of the meeting has raised questions about religion in politics and whether overtly Christian prayers cross the line. And his request of Parvez Ahmed, a nominee to the city's Human Rights Commission, was a decision he regretted and for which he later apologized, Redman said Wednesday.

There was a harsh reaction in the council chamber immediately after Redman asked Ahmed to "pray to your God." Redman said Wednesday he was trying to make a point not because Ahmed is a Muslim, but because he is a board member for interfaith group OneJax, which in a 2007 letter asked the City Council to make its prayers inclusive, rather than sectarian.

Redman said his answer then, as it is now, is, "If somebody asks me to pray, I'm going to pray to my God."

As the council's chaplain for the fiscal year, Redman gives an invocation to begin each biweekly meeting. Tuesday's meeting was no different. He began by asking the Lord to guide the council's deliberations and decision-making and ended with a traditional Christian closing, "In Jesus' name I pray, amen."

Redman said he asked Ahmed to pray to show that he was comfortable hearing prayers of other faiths and that he was offended by OneJax's request that he not pray in his normal manner. Instead, his comments came across as intolerant.

Redman said Wednesday that he regretted his line of questioning and decided to apologize to Ahmed. His assistant hand-delivered a letter to the professor. Redman said he told Ahmed he handled the situation inappropriately.

"It was a very poor reason," Redman said, "but the reason I asked him was I had been asked by a group he belongs to to not pray in Jesus' name in public City Council meetings."

Councilman Stephen Joost followed Redman's comments Tuesday night with a stinging rebuke. Wednesday, he said Redman is a good person who feels bad about how things came across.

It would have been better, Joost said, if Redman would have plainly stated his beef with OneJax.

"It just came out totally wrong for him," Joost said.

Councilman Reggie Brown openly questioned the legality of Redman's line of questioning Tuesday night. A day later, he still feels the council made itself vulnerable to allegations of unfair treatment.

"We're setting up the strong possibility that someone can file claims against the city that there is disparity in the process of questioning candidates that are interested in becoming commission members because there is no consistency," Brown said.

He suggested that the council create a template of questions for potential nominees.
"It's sad we have to do that," he said, "but we can't afford any more black eyes than we received last night."

The council used to invite citizens from around the city to offer the opening invocations, which led to representation by diverse denominations and faiths. But most recently, the chaplain has taken on the prayer duties.

The council's past three chaplains - Redman, Ray Holt and Clay Yarborough - are all members of First Baptist Church of Jacksonville and have opened council meetings with Christian-specific prayers.

That puts the city at risk of a lawsuit, several constitutional law experts said.
Douglas Laycock, a professor at the University of Michigan Law School, is considered one of the nation's leading experts on religious liberty. He said the Supreme Court has allowed legislative bodies to open meetings with prayer, but sectarian prayers muddy the waters.

"There are some indications in the Supreme Court opinions and holdings in lower-court opinions that it has to be interfaith prayer, non-sectarian prayer," Laycock said. "Explicitly Christian prayer may well be unconstitutional, but that hasn't clearly been settled yet."

Laycock said even without a clear precedent prohibiting prayers like the one Redman spoke Tuesday, a risk is taken every time he does.

"They are certainly opening themselves up to a lawsuit by doing it that way," he said.

Brenda Ezell, OneJax's board chairwoman, said the group has researched its legal options and would not sue the city to end sectarian prayers at council meetings. It wants the council to accept its suggestions, though.

"What we asked is that the prayers be inclusive so that no one religious group would be isolated," Ezell said.

Court challenges that invoke the Constitution's establishment clause are common. The ACLU has filed a lawsuit on behalf of an Indiana high school valedictorian who believes the student-led prayer scheduled for his graduation violates his First Amendment rights.

A federal judge in Wisconsin ruled last Thursday that the observance of National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional because it amounts to a call for religious action.
Caroline Corbin, a professor at the University of Miami School of Law, said there are cases on both sides of the prayer issue.

"One could easily argue that a sectarian prayer to Jesus would seem to be favoring Christianity over other religions, and, in that case, would be unconstitutional," she said. "And several courts have held that to be the case."

However, she said other courts have interpreted other Supreme Court decisions as allowing any prayer "so long as it's not proselytizing or denigrating any other religions."

Council President Richard Clark said he had hoped to nominate a non-Christian as chaplain this fiscal year, but realized that all 19 council members identify themselves as Christian. He said he would be open to allowing non-Christian leaders to pray at the beginning of some council meetings, but no one has asked or complained.

"It's never been an issue," Clark said. "I've never even thought about it. It's a nice way to open our meeting. It gets everybody in the right form of mind or in a nice place."

tia.mitchell@jacksonville.com, (904) 359-4425

Some Jacksonville council members embarrassed themselves

Florida Times Union

Submitted by Ron Littlepage on April 29, 2010

Opponents of Parvez Ahmed's nomination to the Human Rights Commission are demanding retribution at the polls after City Council approved his appointment.

I agree. There should be retribution - against those council members who voted no on Ahmed's nomination and shamed the city in the process.
Start with Don Redman.

I've been covering the City Council as a columnist for more than two decades, and I've never seen a more embarrassing moment than when Redman called Ahmed, a Muslim, to the podium Tuesday night and asked him "to say a prayer to your God."

Whatever point Redman was trying to make in his bumbling, disjointed inquisition of Ahmed was inappropriate.

When Redman's name appears on the ballot next spring, surely the voters in District 4 can find a better candidate to represent them.

Clay Yarborough in District 1 also needs to go.

His previous questions of Ahmed about "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, gay marriage and whether he would support and defend the U.S. Constitution - with the underlying hint being that Ahmed would replace it with Islamic law - kicked off this ugly mess.

Glorious Johnson joined Redman and Yarborough in voting against Ahmed. Using incredibly twisted logic, she confused all of those listening.

"Look at us," she said of the polarization surrounding Ahmed's nomination. "Just look at us. We have separated ourselves from one another."

Then she said she would vote no because Ahmed would be a distraction on the commission, a bizarre conclusion for a politician who promotes herself as wanting to shake things up.

Fortunately, Johnson's mayoral campaign will fail, and we will be rid of her.
Ray Holt in District 11 and Jack Webb in District 6 hopefully will draw strong opposition.

Holt's reasoning for voting against Ahmed showed he clearly doesn't understand the difference between analysis and advocacy.

Webb complains he had "legitimate questions" about allegations Ahmed had ties to terrorist groups and he is being criticized for asking them.

The problem is not Webb's questions, but the fact that he refused to listen to the answers.

Considering Webb's well chronicled stumbles of late in the Trail Ridge Landfill debate, the dispute over the JTA allowing advertising on bus shelters and now this, his fellow council member should reconsider Webb's elevation to the council presidency this summer.

The sixth vote against Ahmed by Daniel Davis was disappointing. I've always considered Davis a straight-shooter and fair.

He told Times-Union reporter Tia Mitchell his vote was based on concerns he and his constituents had about Ahmed.

Davis can't run for re-election because of term limits, but he is eyeing a legislative race.

Coincidentally, Adam Hasner, the current Florida House majority leader, helped stir the opposition to Ahmed. Hasner is someone Davis would look to for support.

If Hasner influenced Davis' vote, I would be even more disappointed.

The best thing about Tuesday? The 13 council members who ignored the intolerance and voted to approve Ahmed's nomination, and offered apologies for what he had been put through.

ron.littlepage@jacksonville.com, (904) 359-4284

Ahmed nomination sails rockily to Jacksonville council approval


Florida Times Union, April 28, 2010
Ahmed nomination sails rockily to Jacksonville council approval
By Tia Mitchell

Ending three weeks of controversial back-and-forth, University of North Florida finance professor Parvez Ahmed was confirmed to the city’s Human Rights Commission Tuesday night.

The City Council vote was 13-6, but it came after a half-hour of debate that included a line of questioning from Councilman Don Redman that produced gasps from the audience, concern from one of the city’s top attorneys and sharp rebukes from his fellow council members.

After the vote, Ahmed said he was grateful Mayor John Peyton continued to support him through all the accusations and that a majority of council members voted to confirm him.

“That bodes very well for the future of the city that the city could handle controversy and at the end the day, as messy as the process was, the outcome was exactly what the city needed,” he said.

As discussion on the nomination began, Redman called Ahmed, who is Muslim, to the podium and asked him to “say a prayer to your God.”

The comment elicited an audible, negative reaction from the audience and Ahmed refused to comply, saying it had no relevance to his nomination to the commission. At the same time, Chief Deputy General Counsel Cindy Laquidara rushed to the podium to reign in Redman, asking to speak with him privately before he continued.

Instead, Redman changed his approach, asking Ahmed if he was offended by Redman’s opening prayer, in which he referenced Jesus. Ahmed again questioned the relevance of the question, but he said Christian prayers did not bother him.

“People do have the right to pray according to their faith and according to their beliefs,” he said.
Redman wasn’t convinced. He insisted that Ahmed, despite his answer, would be offended by prayers to Jesus and that is why he shouldn’t serve on Human Rights Commission.

Later, he joined Daniel Davis, Ray Holt, Glorious Johnson, Jack Webb and Clay Yarborough in voting “no.”
Voting in the majority were council members Bill Bishop, Reggie Brown, Richard Clark, Michael Corrigan, John Crescimbeni, Ronnie Fussell, Johnny Gaffney, Art Graham, Kevin Hyde, Warren Jones, Stephen Joost, Denise Lee and Art Shad.

Joost was among those who sharply rebuked Redman.

“This is not the Muslim commission; this is not the Jewish commission, or the Christian commission. This is the Human Rights Commission,” Joost said. “I’m offended by this line of questioning.”
Member Glorious Johnson chastised her fellow council members — at first.

“Look at us. Just look at us. We have separated ourselves from one another. This makes no sense,” she said.
Moments later, though, Johnson said that because Ahmed’s nomination was so controversial and would distract from the commission’s work, she couldn’t support it.

“If he is on the commission it will polarize what we are trying to do on the commission,” she said. “For that reason I will be voting against Mr. Ahmed’s nomination to the commission.”

But others spoke passionately about the need to confirm Ahmed, a Fulbright Scholar, saying the vocal opposition to his nomination was not reason enough to deny him.

“That’s probably the worst excuse I’ve heard,” John Crescimbeni said in response to Johnson’s statement.
Several other council members spoke on behalf of the nomination, including Art Shad and Kevin Hyde, each of whom apologized to Ahmed and said they hoped the city wouldn’t be tainted by the vote of the vocal minority.

Fussell said he was undecided on how he would vote until after he met one-on-one with Ahmed an hour before the meeting. Fussell said he asked the nominee about his background, personal views and the allegations that he had ties to terrorists.

“I was comfortable that the man that I met wasn’t the man being portrayed,” Fussell said.

Councilman Clay Yarborough, who at first voted in favor of Ahmed’s nomination in the Rules Committee but reversed himself when the committee voted again last week, read a long statement about why he changed his mind.

He said he was given reason to pause because four U.S. representatives asked the attorney general to look into relationship between the Council on American-Islamic Relations, of which Ahmed was once a board member and national chairman, and terrorism.

Reggie Brown wondered if the council in general, and presumably Redman’s questioning in particular, had gone too far.

“Have we overstepped our boundaries legally?” he asked. “I really need someone to answer that question.”

The campaign against Ahmed was led by the anti-radical Muslim group ACT! for America. Randy McDaniels, leader of the Jacksonville chapter, expressed his disappointment after the vote.

“This is a bad move,” McDaniels said during the public comment period. “It’s an embarrassment to our community, and the country is watching.”

Links:
http://jacksonville.com/opinion/columnists/ron-littlepage/2010-04-23/story/despite-shrill-critics-ahmed-ideal-appointee
http://jacksonville.com/news/florida/2010-04-22/story/florida-house-leader-weighed-jacksonville-muslim-professors-nomination
http://jacksonville.com/news/metro/2010-04-26/story/mayor-backs-ahmed-holt-withdraws-support
http://jacksonville.com/news/metro/2010-04-19/story/council-panel-again-backs-unf-professor-jacksonville-commission
http://jacksonville.com/news/metro/2010-04-25/story/more-council-members-support-ahmed-nomination-oppose

More Letters of Support

Florida Times Union, April 27, 2010

Support from UNF

Representing faculty and the senior administration of the University of North Florida, we want to go on record as supporting the nomination of Professor Parvez Ahmed to the Jacksonville Human Rights Commission.

Ironically, much of the controversy around Ahmed's nomination proves just how urgently we need to appoint men and women like him to this commission.
Regrettably, to be "different from" too often is regarded as being "less than" or "more dangerous or threatening than."

When that is the case, an occasion for learning is supplanted by fear, prejudice and stagnation.

Since first moving to Jacksonville and the University of North Florida, Ahmed has worked tirelessly to help open dialogue about such differences.

He has met with numbers of community and church organizations, helping many of us understand the similarities between Christianity, Judaism and Islam, and the differences between Islam and Muslim extremists.

When we have looked behind the quotes taken out of context that have been offered in opposition to Ahmed's nomination, we found a message of respect and a belief in honest dialogue among all parties.

These are the characteristics that would make him an incredible and much needed asset to the Jacksonville Human Rights Commission.

JOHN A. DELANEY,
president,
University of North Florida,
and
KATHERINE M. ROBINSON,
president,
UNF Faculty Association

Florida Times Union April 23, 2010

An excellent choice

Having concluded eight years as a member of the Human Rights Commission, I speak with some experience in writing that Jacksonville needs commissioners like Parvez Ahmed to serve this city.

The commission is concerned about the human rights of the entire community - blacks and whites, women and men, young and old, Asian and Latinos, Arabs and Jews, gays and straights, religious and non-religious.

Ahmed is uniquely qualified. He is a man of Indian birth, Muslim faith and American citizenship.

He will join with other commissioners of diverse backgrounds to support freedom and justice for all.

Like many Jacksonville residents, I regret the narrow-minded views of a few council members who fail to appreciate the larger patriotism that Ahmed expresses.
As a student of Jacksonville history, I am hopeful that these views increasingly are outside the mainstream in this city.

My 38 years here have seen a growth of tolerance, greater acceptance of diversity and a realization that there are no real alternatives.

Our city remains an imperfect expression of human rights and social justice, but in Mayor John Peyton's appointment and City Council's confirmation of Ahmed, Jacksonville will have taken a small step toward becoming a world class city.

JAMES B. CROOKS
Jacksonville

Intolerant statement

The comments by Jacksonville City Council member Clay Yarborough in The Times-Union are not only troubling because they reflect an intolerance for individuals of a different religion, but because they reflect an increasing trend that endangers a core strength of our nation.

Yarborough indicated that he would consider opposing an individual, not based on qualifications, experience and philosophy, but whether that individual was a member of a particular religion.

Yarborough and other members of the City Council should set an example of the importance of the Constitution in every day American life.

They should approve the appointment of Parvez Ahmed to the Human Rights Commission rather than give credence to groups that advocate intolerance.

DAN DUNDON
Jacksonville

Minister supports Ahmed

I have been a resident of Jacksonville for the past 12 years, serving as both a minister and a community volunteer.

I know many teachers, community volunteers, religious leaders, police officers, parents, students and individuals in our city who work hard to create an environment of peace, progress, and prosperity for Jacksonville.

I am a fan of Jacksonville and have consciously chosen to raise my family in this fine town.

Yet, I am deeply saddened and disturbed by the overt, blatant, intentional and unapologetic religious discrimination by some on the Jacksonville City Council toward Parvez Ahmed and his appointment to the Human Rights Commission.

Councilman Clay Yarborough's "moral vetting" of Ahmed represents an attitude of discrimination, profiling, stereotyping and extreme narrow-mindedness.

Although I do not know Ahmed well, I do know him to be a person who is deeply committed to both education and human rights.

In my opinion, he is a much-needed asset to the Human Rights Commission, and would bring a great deal of experience, wisdom, and compassion to the commission.

For our city to continue to be a place of peace, progress and prosperity, we've got to acknowledge, accept and appreciate religious and racial diversity and call out those who fight against it.

BRETT FOSTER,
Baptist minister,
Jacksonville

Florida Times Union Editorial - Rhetoric tops reality

Human rights board: Rhetoric tops reality
Source: Florida Times Union, Editorial, April 25, 2010.

The biggest contract in city history awaits a City Council vote Tuesday. Hard choices on budget cuts and city fee hikes of all kinds loom because of next year's $58 million budget gap.

But the hottest issue facing council right now is whether members should put University of North Florida finance professor Parvez Ahmed on an unpaid board that most city residents probably don't know exists: The Jacksonville Human Rights Commission.

Ahmed is many things: A Ph.D., a recent Fulbright Scholar and a Muslim from India who speaks to groups locally, nationally and overseas about resolving ethnic and religious conflicts through dialogue and mutual respect. He is a husband and father of two children.

He's also a former national board chairman of the Council for American-Islamic Relations, a national Muslim civil rights group that's a lightning rod for controversy.

He left that group in 2008 after a fallout over its direction and leadership. Nevertheless, his ties with CAIR have prompted detractors to depict Ahmed as an extremist and terrorist sympathizer.

For those who know him as a soft-spoken, professorial type, the characterization as an extremist simply does not compute.

Same man, different views

The state chapter of the Anti-Defamation League says Ahmed's views are divisive and he has defended anti-Israeli terrorist groups. ACT! for America, a group concerned about threats from radical Islamic terrorists, says Ahmed's past associations, views and positions make him an unacceptable choice for the commission.

Even Adam Hasner, Florida House majority leader from Delray Beach, has called local Jacksonville officials regarding concerns about Ahmed's appointment.

Meanwhile, an all-star cast of local supporters - including OneJax, the Community Foundation Inc., the NAACP and UNF President John Delaney - touts him as a highly respected voice of reason who promotes understanding, unity and tolerance among people of different religions, cultures and ethnic backgrounds.

Ahmed denies he has supported terrorism or advocated violence in any way, either before, during or after his involvement with CAIR. He was its volunteer board chairman from 2005-2008 and the state CAIR's board chairman from 2002 to 2005.

He said he condemns all violence, that his positions have been taken out of context and distorted.

Talking about terrorism or seeking to understand its dynamics does not make Ahmed a bad guy, nor is that the same as endorsing or advocating it.

In the same sense, the mere questioning of Ahmed's past associations and positions do not necessarily make critics into bigots or haters.

This issue's spiraling emotional rhetoric overshadows reality.

Consider the position

Ahmed isn't being pitched for secretary of state or ambassador to the United Nations.
Mayor John Peyton nominated him to be one of up to 20 volunteer board members of a commission that typically meets once a month.

Its job isn't to tackle Middle East conflicts. Its main business is to promote fair treatment and equal opportunity for all local residents regardless of their race, religion, national origin, sex, age or disability.

It investigates and helps settle discrimination complaints about jobs, housing and businesses.

Actions of the board require a majority vote of board members.Its power is mostly advisory.

Background checks

Anyone who serves on any public board should be of good character and, preferably, have relevant experience.

We have seen no evidence that Ahmed has condoned violence or terrorism. There is plenty of evidence he has been involved in many positive community activities, from helping local charities to speaking at local places of worship about mutual understanding.

Delaney said UNF has not received any subpoenas, requests for documents or other inquiries from any investigating authorities about Ahmed during his years there.

Deputy Chief General Counsel Cindy Laquidara said she found no criminal complaints against Ahmed and just a few "garden variety" civil complaints involving national CAIR during Ahmed's leadership. Those involved services the group provided and were not directed at Ahmed.

She said she did not do a complete background check on him, but that the city doesn't do one for any nominee to a city board.

City Council member John Crescimbeni said he called a former veteran FBI agent who headed the Jacksonville office, who was "astounded" at some of the allegations against Ahmed and had seen no evidence to support them.

Crescimbeni said a call to the U.S. Attorney's Office "provided comfort to me as well."

It should be noted that the FBI has severed its ties with CAIR. But Ahmed did, as well. And he has worked with the FBI and law enforcement on diversity issues.

The council has haggled over Ahmed's appointment for weeks, with Councilman Clay Yarborough going far as asking him whether he would support, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, if he were appointed.

"Absolutely, yes," said Ahmed, a U.S. citizen.

CAIR is a controversial group. Middle East conflicts are the world's thorniest. Ahmed's opinions about them won't appeal to everyone.

But those aren't relevant in regard to serving on this commission.

One appointment is not going to make or break this board and its mission.

And the noise surrounding Ahmed's appointment should not keep City Council from confirming him.

City looks at stance on human rights

Source URL: http://jacksonville.com/news/metro/2010-04-25/story/city-looks-stance-human-rights

The Jacksonville City Council Rules Committee recommended on Monday that UNF professor Parvez Ahmed be confirmed to the city Human Rights Commission despite opposition from the anti-Islamist group ACT! for America. The full council will take up the issue Tuesday. Ahmed participated in a live discussion on Jacksonville.com's Talk of the Town on Thursday, answering questions about the Human Rights Commission as well as his association with the American Muslim advocacy group the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Here are excerpts from that live online chat.

[Comment From David West]: The JHRC serves the same purpose as the Florida Commission on Human Relations. Why do we need such commissions at both the state and the local levels? Does Jacksonville really need the JHRC?

Ahmed: There are issues at the city level that are best resolved locally. It also allows us local mediation before either federal or state agencies can review any complaint.

Jeff Reece-moderator: Could you give us an example of an issue better resolved at the local level?

Ahmed: Issues related to city employees for example. Or issues related to reasonable accommodation of religious practices can be best resolved locally because they will take into account local customs and practices.

[Comment From Bill Graham]: Dr. Ahmed, I want to say first of all that I appreciate your willingness to serve. I feel, as you do, that the JHRC is necessary if only to serve issues that are of local importance to us. What do you feel are the most important issues to Jacksonville?

Ahmed: Right now, I do not know all of the issues that are in front of the commission. Once I'm confirmed by the City Council, I intend to find out.

Jeff Reece-moderator: What do you think are some of the issues in Jacksonville that the commission should be dealing with?

Ahmed: Some of the conversations surrounding my nomination suggests that there is an opportunity to do more dialogues and conversations on issues related to racial or religious stereotyping. I view my current situation as a teachable moment. I hope the commission will enhance its outreach efforts related to education and inter-group harmony.

JeffReece-moderator: Much has been made of your association with CAIR. Some want to know what led you to join CAIR and what you hoped to accomplish through that organization. Can you speak to this?

Ahmed: CAIR was at that time and is now perhaps the only Muslim civil rights organization in America. After the tragic events of 9/11 there was an unfortunate backlash against American Muslims. An organization that was dedicated to defending the rights of American Muslims was necessary, not only for the sake of American Muslims, but also for the greater good of America itself. It is in this spirit I joined CAIR.

[Comment From S.P.]: Dr. Ahmed, Once nominated, how will you educate the Jax community on issues related to Human Rights?

Ahmed: I have been speaking at churches, synagogues, temples, schools and civic organizations around the city. I will continue doing that. I will also try to find new partners who can enhance the cause of human rights for all.

[Comment From Claire]: Currently, the only thing the commission does that is not a duplication of services is outreach. Why shouldn't we cut most of the commission, and only leave the outreach department? (Taking care of the city's employee's issues is currently under the JHRC umbrella, but sectioned off).

Ahmed: It is difficult for me to comment on this without knowing the full scope and impact of the commission. But I do know from experience that the commission has been an effective mediator in many human rights-related conflict situations.

[Comment From Claire]: Within the community, but that is outreach. Most of the taxpayer money goes toward paying the JHRC to do the same thing as the EEOC and Florida Commission

Ahmed: The JHRC is a first line of defense before matters escalate to federal or state levels. So it does not duplicate resources, it actually streamlines the process.

Jeff Reece-moderator: There is great fear in the U.S. about the radicalization of Muslims. Is this a legitimate concern?

Ahmed: It is a concern, but we should not be hysterical. There is a report that was put out by Duke University that expresses some concern, but also commends the American Muslim community for taking positive steps toward mitigating this problem. More can be done. It requires cooperation and understanding across all religious communities and also our civic and political leaders.

Jeff Reece-moderator: When T-U columnist Mark Woods asked Councilman Clay Yarborough, "Do you believe Muslims should be able to hold any public office in Florida?" his response was "I don't know." When asked "Do you think homosexuals should be able to hold a public office in Florida?" his response was "I would prefer they did not." What is your reaction to his answers?

Ahmed: It is disappointing to see an elected official so fundamentally misinformed about our constitution and the Bill of Rights.

[Comment From Bill Graham]: What would you like to leave as your legacy for Jacksonville?

Ahmed: A bridge-builder and a peacemaker.

Jeff Reece-moderator: Some Americans believe that Islam teaches that women don't have as many rights as men. As a Muslim, do you see this as a human rights issue and what is your personal stance on the issue?

Ahmed: Women have the same rights in Islam as men. Some cultures do have institutional discrimination against women. This is more cultural than religious. The rights of all human beings is a human rights issue. I have advocated for greater expansion of women's rights within Muslim communities, both here and abroad.

Despite shrill critics, Ahmed an ideal appointee

Source: Florida Times Union, April 25, 2010.

Despite shrill critics, Ahmed an ideal appointee

By Ron Littlepage. From the editorial page

Some are upset that the terms "bigoted" and "intolerant" have been used in the debate over Parvez Ahmed's nomination to the Jacksonville Human Rights Commission.

Here's just one example of why those descriptions are accurate. An e-mail I received read:

"It is not bigotry to protect our country. We are in a war against muslims (small m because these people do not deserve to be capitalized.)

"We do not need any more muslims in our government setting policy. We have one in
the white house and that's more than enough.

"Yes, he is a muslim. He attended their schools as a child and why do [you] think he and his family have not chosen to attend church?

"Thank God for Webb and Yarborough who are trying to protect this country."

It would be one thing if such uninformed sentiments were rare, but they weren't rare in e-mails and telephone calls I received after writing about Ahmed's nomination.

One motivation for the anti-Muslim rhetoric often mentioned was the despicable actions of Army psychiatrist Nidal Malik Hasan at Fort Hood in Texas.

I'm guessing those detractors never read what Ahmed wrote after that tragedy.

"Muslims in America do face the problems of discrimination and many feel dismayed about America's policy towards hot spots like Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and Palestine," he wrote on Huffington Post.

"But those issues cannot be solved by acts of terror or random violence.

"Terror in the name of Islam has only brought more misery to Muslims at home and abroad. Terrorism is morally bankrupt and strategically unsuccessful."

Such condemnations of terrorism is a constant theme in Ahmed's writings and speeches.
Others are promoting peace and understanding, and bridging divides among different religions.

The goals of the Jacksonville Human Rights Commission include promoting "mutual understanding and respect among members of all economic, social, racial, religious and ethnic groups" and eliminating "discrimination against and antagonism between religious, racial and ethnic groups."

In a city with a population that's becoming more diverse, Ahmed's voice would be a welcome addition to the 20-member commission.

As disturbing as some of the bigoted and intolerant comments have been, there have been the numerous e-mails and calls supporting Ahmed's nomination.

Much of that support comes from people who actually know and work with Ahmed, unlike those who are railing against him.

The Jacksonville City Council is set to take up Ahmed's nomination during its regular meeting on Tuesday night.

Council members Clay Yarborough and Jack Webb, who wants to be the next council president, already have said they will vote against Ahmed's nomination.

One voice that has not been heard in this debate - at least not as loudly as those of Webb and Yarborough - is that of Mayor John Peyton.

Peyton would do well to go before the council and remind council members that the action they take will say a lot about our city.

Bigotry rears its ugly head in Jacksonville City Council committee

Jacksonville.com

Submitted by Ron Littlepage on April 20, 2010 - 1:30am

Good people came to the City Council Rules Committee meeting Monday in support of Parvez Ahmed, Mayor John Peyton's nominee to the Jacksonville Human Rights Commission.

Their presence and words will help erase some of the stain placed on this community by the bigotry and intolerance that have surfaced in opposition to Ahmed, a Muslim.

But the stain will remain, and it was reinforced by the actions of two committee members - Jack Webb and Clay Yarborough.

One who spoke in favor of Ahmed was former Mayor John Delaney, now the president of the University of North Florida where Ahmed, a Fulbright scholar, is a professor.

"This is a man of peace," Delaney said.

Ahmed has worked to bridge divides, Delaney said, and he certainly isn't a supporter of terrorism, as some on the fringe have claimed.

They, not Ahmed, were the ones who stomped out of the council chambers when their motives were questioned.

It would have been better for Webb and Yarborough if they had stomped out as well.

Webb, who had recommended at last week's council meeting that Ahmed's nomination go back to Rules, went into some hard-to-follow riff about the Irish Republican Army.

Then after challenging Ahmed, he happened to be out of the room when a majority of the committee voted to recommend that the full council approve Ahmed's nomination.

Afterward, Webb insisted that he wasn't "ducking" a vote and that he had gone to get a diet soda.

I must admit that I chuckled. Webb shot back that he will vote against Ahmed at Tuesday's council meeting because of his concerns.

Yarborough's position was predictable.

He asked Ahmed a couple of questions:

Would Ahmed uphold and support the U.S. Constitution?

"Absolutely."

Did Ahmed think the Constitution should be replaced with other laws?

"No."

Well, Yarborough said, he would still vote against Ahmed because of concerns that were raised during his "research."

Councilman John Crescimbeni put Webb's and Yarborough's questions into the proper perspective. He had done some research as well.

Crescimbeni said he had talked to a retired FBI agent with 31 years in the agency, including serving as the agent-in-charge in Jacksonville, who knows Ahmed.

The retired agent, Crescimbeni said, was "astounded" by the allegations.

The councilman said he also talked with a member of the U.S. Attorney's Office about Ahmed, and what he was told "provided comfort to me, as well."

"I can't imagine a better candidate," Crescimbeni said. "Thank you for enduring this process."

As for his part, Ahmed said those opposing him "have never met me. They have never spoken to me."

While those supporting him, he said, have worked along side him as he condemned terrorism and violence, and pushed for peace and justice and diplomacy.

Crescimbeni was right: Ahmed is the right kind of candidate needed for the Human Rights Commission.

ron.littlepage@jacksonville.com,(904) 359-4284

Letters of Support From OneJax, CAHR/FSU, NAACP, Community Foundation

FROM ONEJAX

April 15, 2010

Dear Jacksonville Friends and Supporters,

We at OneJax, an interfaith organization whose mission is to promote respect and understanding among people of different religions, races, cultures and beliefs, must go on record to express our dismay and disappointment at the actions of the City Council regarding the delay of a vote to approve the Mayor's nomination of Dr. Parvez Ahmed to the Jacksonville Human Rights Commission.

Dr. Ahmed, a UNF professor, Fulbright Scholar and longtime Board member of our organization, works tirelessly in this community to unify people across cultures, races, and religions. His human relations track record locally, nationally and internationally speaks volumes about his integrity, dedication, and competence. Dr. Ahmed embodies the guiding principles of our organization:

Respect: We respect and value every person's human dignity.
Unity: We celebrate our common humanity and honor our differences.
Courage: We stand together and speak out when oppression hurts people.
Integrity: We live the principles we talk about in our everyday lives.
Accountability: We act accountably with those we serve and with those who support us.

We ask that our City Council embrace these principles, refuse to give further credence to attempts at cultural stereotyping, and approve the nomination of Dr. Ahmed to the Jacksonville Human Rights Commission.

If you agree, take action and contact the members of City Council today. Make your voice heard and support Parvez Ahmed.

We appreciate your commitment to helping us make Jacksonville an inclusive community.

Brenda B. Ezell
Board Chair
Celeste Krueger, Ed.S.
Executive Director

From Center for Advancement of Human Rights, Florida State University

*Open message to the Council regarding Mayor John Peyton’s nomination of Dr. Parvez Ahmed…

April 15, 2010

I write in support of Mayor John Peyton’s nomination of Dr. Parvez Ahmed, Fulbright Scholar and Associate Professor of Finance, Department of Accounting and Finance, Coggin College of Business, University of North Florida, to the Jacksonville Human Rights Commission.

More specifically, I write given my understanding that the Council recently voted to refer his nomination back to the rules committee for further consideration in response to certain accusations that Dr. Ahmed has ties to extremist groups -- which presumably refer to his prior role as national chair of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR).

From my perspective, that course of action is perplexing given that Dr. Ahmed is widely recognized as a highly regarded commentator on the American Muslim experience and consistently has been an eloquent voice of moderation. Moreover, I understand that Dr. Ahmed has garnered wide-ranging support for this appointment.

For context, I serve as senior program director for The Florida State University Center for the Advancement of Human Rights (FSU/CAHR) in Tallahassee. I am a lawyer with almost two decades of policy experience and have served as senior staff in the Florida’s Governor’s Office, the White House and the U.S. State Department. Of particular note, I directed the Center's Liberty in the Balance Project -- a two-year initiative that FSU/CAHR launched several months after 9/11 with partial support from the Office of the Florida Attorney General in an effort to help facilitate an appropriate balance between law enforcement imperatives and civil liberties interests in a post-9/11 environment.

My initial interaction with Dr. Ahmed dates back to the aforementioned project. Simply put, his contributions proved to be invaluable. We have worked together on various other issues over the course of the past several years.

The irony in this instance is compelling… Several weeks ago, against the backdrop of Ft. Hood, Flight 253 and recent reporting relating to activities by certain Christian Militia groups in Michigan, Dr. Ahmed, Bob Cromwell (a former FBI Special Agent in Charge within the Bureau’s Jacksonville, FL, Division… who I am aware has developed a strong working relationship with Dr. Ahmed) and I concluded that there was ample cause to reengage on these issues in Florida. Accordingly, the three of us resolved to pilot a renewed version of the Liberty in the Balance Project, which FSU/CAHR plans to launch in the near term. Once again, Dr. Ahmed will play a key role.

I am confident that Dr. Ahmed’s background, experience and insights will serve the Jacksonville Human Rights Commission and thereupon the people of Jacksonville well. I encourage Council members to take favorable action on his nomination without further delay.

Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you would like clarification regarding any element of this message.

Respectfully,

Mark Schlakman

Note1: Before I joined FSU’s faculty in early 2002, I had the privilege of serving in several senior government positions at the state and federal levels including, special counsel to Governor Lawton Chiles, special advisor to Governor Jeb Bush during his first several months in office, senior advisor to Governor "Buddy" MacKay amidst his tenure as White House Special Envoy for the Americas during the final two years of the Clinton administration, and as a special advisor to U.S. Senator Bob Graham toward the end of my tour in Washington, D.C.

I also served as a Foreign Affairs Officer for the U.S. Department of State where I received its Superior Honor Award in recognition of my service within the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs while assigned to the White House. I subsequently served as Alternate Representative for the US Permanent Mission to the Organization of American States (OAS).

Note2: I have copied Dr. Ahmed, The Honorable Mayor John Peyton, Talbot "Sandy" D'Alemberte (President Emeritus, The Florida State University and former president of the American Bar Association), Terry Coonan (Executive Director, FSU/CAHR), Derick Daniel (Executive Director, Florida Commission on Human Relations) and Bob Cromwell (former Special Agent in Charge, FBI -- Jacksonville, FL, Division) on this message.

FROM NAACP - Jacksonville Branch

April 19, 2010

The Honorable Richard Clark
President, Jacksonville City Council
11 7 W. Duval St., Ste 425
Jacksonville, FL 32202

RE: Dr. Parvez Ahmed

Dear President Clark:

This letter is written in support of Mayor John Peyton's nomination of Dr. Parvez Ahmed, an associate professor of finance at the University of North Florida, to the Jacksonville Human Rights Commission. As the President of the Jacksonville Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and speaking for the Branch, we support Dr. Ahmed's confirmation. The NAACP has a long standing history of fighting for human rights of all people and we consider these circumstances no different.

Dr. Ahmed, a United States Fulbright Scholar, brings this community outstanding experiences with his nomination as the first Muslim representative to the Jacksonville Human Rights Commission. His service on the Commission would truly expand its diverse representation. His long standing commitment and his valuable contributions to the Jacksonville community helps our essential development. Dr. Ahmed is not new to Jacksonville. He is an advocate for human rights. In order to embrace the diversity that is destined for this city, we must have a Human Rights Commission that is socially and racially inclusive. We have seen what happens over the years when Jacksonville excludes rather than includes.

The cultural characteristics and the fabric of all races shape our nation. Jacksonville is merely a small microcosm of our country and this nomination is crucial to shaping the thoughts we must embrace in our diversity. We must begin to accept and understand all people. The Jacksonville City Council should not condemn Dr. Ahmed before all facts are presented. A person's religious affiliations, color of their skin, and ethnic background should not be a precursor for elimination.
We support Dr. Parvez Ahmed and the valuable and extensive knowledge and perspectives he brings to the Jacksonville Human Rights Commission.

Mr. President, if the Jacksonville City Council aspires to carry Jacksonville to loftier heights through its leadership; then you should not allow the denial of Dr. Ahmed's nomination, and the obvious appearance of racism and discrimination, further tarnish the image of Jacksonville.

Sincerely,
Isaiah Rumlin
President, Jacksonville Branch NAACP

From Community Foundation in Jacksonville

Earned our respect

As a nation, the United States is committed to the notion of equal opportunity, regardless of gender, race, creed or national origin.

At The Community Foundation in Jacksonville, we share that commitment.

Therefore, we are particularly offended and appalled by the decision of certain City Council members to obstruct the nomination of Parvez Ahmed to serve on the Jacksonville Human Rights Commission.

Ahmed has earned the respect of his peers locally and nationally. The University of North Florida professor is the recent recipient of a coveted Fulbright grant and has received the Outstanding Researcher Award three times from Coggin College of Business at UNF as well as the Outstanding Teacher Award.

More importantly, he has been a steady voice for reason and understanding among people of different faiths in the community.

In short, he is ideally suited for service on the Human Rights Commission.

We urge the reasoned and responsible representatives on City Council not to be hijacked by hysteria and misinformation, hatred and intolerance.

We urge them to support the nomination of Ahmed to the Jacksonville Human Rights Commission.

CINDY EDELMAN,
chairman, The Community Foundation in Jacksonville

Jacksonville panel votes again to recommend Ahmed for commission

Video of Rules Committee Meeting, April 19, 2010

Florida Times Union, April 20, 2010
By Tia Mitchell
University of North Florida President John Delaney said he decided to speak up in public for Parvez Ahmed not just because he is an employee but because he felt an upstanding man was being vilified.

"He's a person of peace," Delaney said after speaking at Monday's City Council Rules Committee meeting. "He's about love, and he's about mutuality and reconciliation.

He's never been a militant or rabid in interpersonal dealings, and the faculty here will tell you that."

The Rules Committee agreed with the former two-term mayor and voted 4-1 to uphold its previous decision to recommend Ahmed for confirmation to the Jacksonville Human Rights Commission. The full council will now take up the issue at its April 27 meeting.

Voting in favor of recommending Ahmed were Art Shad, John Crescimbeni, Denise Lee and Bill Bishop.

Councilman Clay Yarborough voted "no" - changing his stance from two weeks earlier. Yarborough said the recent allegations that Ahmed, a UNF professor and a Muslim, has ties to terrorism were enough to change his mind.

"I have too much of a reasonable doubt based on the research I've done over the last week and a half," he said.

Council Vice President Jack Webb left the room before the vote was taken. He told The Times-Union he stepped out to get a soft drink and then ran into Delaney, who wanted to talk about Ahmed's nomination.

Webb said he was surprised that the vote came so soon and would have voted against Ahmed's nomination. Asked why he didn't ask the committee to reopen the ballot so he could cast his vote on the record, Webb said, "I probably should have in retrospect."

At least two unidentified men walked out of the meeting, including one who had an angry outburst during Delaney's statements. As Delaney described the opposition campaign as fueled by hate, the man shouted his disagreement.

"I am not a racist! I am not going to be called a racist! It's not going to happen!" the man yelled as security officers followed him out of the council chambers.

After the vote, members of ACT! for America - the anti-Islamist group that has been most vocally opposed to Ahmed's nomination - and others expressed their disappointment. Randy McDaniels, leader of the organization's Jacksonville chapter, said he felt the council was ignoring troubling facts.

"With this many allegations and this much controversy, should someone like this be nominated?" McDaniels asked.
Ahmed, a Fullbright Scholar, professor at UNF and a Muslim, said the committee's vote was vindication not only for him as an individual but for the city as a whole.

"The city needed an outcome that demonstrated courage," he said, "that demonstrated moral clarity."

tia.mitchell@jacksonville.com,
(904) 359-4425

My Ordeal with Jacksonville City Council

I was nominated by Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton to serve on the Jacksonville Human Rights Commission. The nomination needed to voted by the Rules Committee of City Council. In advance of this meeting, one of the Council members named Clay Yarborough sent me a bunch of irrelevant questions asking me about my views on "Under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance and gay marriage. Although I was not required to answer such irrelevant questions, I went ahead and answered them in the spirit of respectful dialog and mutual understanding.

The Rules Committee met and approved by nomination 4-0. The local newspaper (Times Union) found out about this and wrote a story.

Yarborough quizzes Jacksonville commission nominees on gay marriage, God, Islamic ties

A hate group called ACT got wind of this issue through the news report and started to bombard city hall with spurious allegations stemming from my time with the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), where I first served as its Florida Chairman from 2002-05 and then as the National Chairman from 2005-2008. I resigned from the organization after a public fallout over its direction and leadership.

Click here to learn more about ACT.

Next day the newspaper ran yet another story.

Anti-Muslim group opposes professor's appointment to Jacksonville commission

When the turn came for the full city council vote, instead of confirming the nomination as is the usual practice, they voted to refer the issue back to the Rules Committee for a re-vote.

Muslim's slot on Jacksonville human rights panel opposed

Following the city council's vote, I received a lot emails from a diverse group of people expressing outrage at the council's action and extending their support to me.

Times Union columnist Ron Littlepage wrote, "Any council member who has paid even the smallest amount of attention to what's going on in the world around them would know that charge is a crock. Ahmed has been a voice of reason and peace in these troubled times. But I guess paying attention isn't high on some council members' agendas."

On Thu, April 15, I was interviewed on Jacksonville's NPR station WJCT 89.9FM. To listen to the show click here.

When you listen to the interview, you will notice the overwhelming positive response that came from ordinary citizens of Jacksonville. I was gratified by this response.

Americans do not know much about Islam and Muslims. A recent Gallup Poll shows, "More than 4 in 10 Americans (43%) admit to feeling at least "a little" prejudice toward Muslims -- more than twice the number who say the same about Christians (18%), Jews (15%) and Buddhists (14%)." Hate groups like ACT, exploit this fear. Sometimes unfortunately they succeed. In the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King let me remind ourselves that our finite disappointments should not make us give up on the infinite hope of equality for all people.

One final note, during the public comment section of the city council meeting on Tuesday, April 13, a bunch of ACT folks stood up and railed against the Quran, Islam and me. Their free speech rights allow them to make those comments uninterrupted. However, it is also the moral duty of our leaders to stand up to such hate and bigotry. It is also a duty of ordinary citizens to condemn such rhetoric particularly when such hate speech is uttered in a citizen funded public building. What kind of message does such ranting send around the country and the world to people and businesses who want to relocate to Jacksonville?

To view the city council meeting visit click here. Scroll down to city council meeting 4/13/2010. The public comment section begins around the 45 minute mark.

I still hold out hope that the City Council members will do the right thing when the matter comes for re-voting.

In a letter to all members of the City Council I wrote, "ACT believes that Muslim-Americans shouldn't be allowed to hold public office and instructs people to contact the FBI if they see a mosque being built in their neighborhood. Their leader also said, "Every practicing Muslim is a radical Muslim." Educational materials available on ACT's website makes ridiculous claims such as "Islam does not coexist well with other religions," "[Islam] Co-opts the moon god Allah," "Islam was spread by the sword, not conversion."

If the words Muslim in those quotes were replaced by the words African-American or Jewish or Buddhist will the Council treat information from such a source with credibility?"

In addition, I said, "By now you have heard a lot about me, but from others. Some of the people you heard from have had years of associations with me. I am thankful that my work and views have made a positive impression on them. While others who wrote or spoke using snippets of disjointed information gathered from the internet painted a distorted picture of my record and views. The irony is not lost on anyone that those who never met me seemed loudest in their condemnation."