Parents in Tampa are the latest to protest school officials inviting a controversial Muslim civil liberties advocacy group to speak to students.
Dozens of people showed up at a Hillsborough County school board meeting Tuesday night to complain that a member of Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, spoke to history students at Steinbrenner High School last fall. They cited the group's past connection to a terror financing case involving the terrorist group Hamas. The group, which purports to promote diversity and tolerance of the religion, has met a similar reception in Texas and Georgia in recent years.
“We do not have a problem with Islamic groups speaking with students, but we do have an issue with a group that has ties to terrorism speaking,” Randall McDaniels, head of the Jacksonville Chapter of ACT for America, one of the groups actively seeking to stop CAIR members from speaking to students in public schools, told FoxNews.com
CAIR spokesman Corey Saylor dismissed the criticism as "fear-mongering.” Hassan Shibly, the Florida CAIR member who spoke to the students, said the parents are misguided.
“This hatred and animosity only shows the importance of reaching out to the community,” he said, “It’s insulting to the school and the students to think that one person can influence their beliefs. It’s misleading."
The group, the nation's largest Muslim civil liberties advocacy organization, also has come under criticism for, among other reasons, being named by the Justice Department as an unindicted co-conspirator in a major terror financing case involving the Holy Land Foundation.
Michael Rubin, a resident scholar with the American Enterprise Institute who focuses on the Middle East and terrorism, said concerns about CAIR are not unfounded.
"They have been co-conspirators in a terrorism finance trial and seek to stymie debate rather than safeguard it," Rubin said. "Almost every day, jihadists on religious Internet forums belie CAIR’s claim that religion has nothing to do with terrorism. Ultimately, there is a battle for interpretation going on inside the world of Islam, and rather than seek to win that debate for the moderates and proponents of tolerance, CAIR acts as the jihadists’ offensive linesmen.”
Parents in the Houston-area town of Friendswood objected to a presentation CAIR made to junior high students in 2008, sparking a furor that led to the principal's resignation. In 2010, parents in Gwenett County, Ga., forced the school system to disinvite CAIR from holding classroom presentations.
Perry Chiaramonte is a reporter for FoxNews.com. Follow him on Twitter at @perrych