Jet Blue Forces Passenger To Remove Inflammatory Arabic T-Shirt

This is a partial transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," August 31, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.

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JOHN KASICH, GUEST HOST: In the "Personal story" segment tonight, courting controversy at the airport at a time of heightened worry over terror.

Two days after British authorities foiled a plot to blow up planes over the Atlantic, a young Arab activist named Raed Jarrar tried to board a Jet Blue fight at JFK wearing a t-shirt bearing the slogan "We will not be silent" in Arabic and English.

Tonight, Jarrar is complaining that he was pulled over by four security officers who refused to let him board until changed his shirt. He claims his civil rights were violated.

Joining us now from Washington is attorney David Oblon. David, what was this guy trying to do?

DAVID OBLON, CONSTITUTIONAL LAW ATTORNEY: According to him, he was trying to get on the airplane. And he hadn't really given much thought about the shirt that he was wearing.

KASICH: Now David, listen, let me ask you a question here. And a simple answer. How does a guy two days after they stop 20, you know, 10, 20 planes from being blown up over the Atlantic, wear a shirt printed in Arabic that says, "We will not be silent."

I mean, the guy obviously went there looking for trouble and looking to pick a fight. You don't wear a shirt like that two days after this big plot was foiled?

OBLON: That's not really a nefarious statement in and of itself, "We will not be silent." I mean, that doesn't sound like a very insightful statement. And the Supreme Court has clearly said that if you're going to use a fighting word standard there has to be a clear and present danger of imminent lawlessness. And something like that just doesn't cut it.

KASICH: David, have you ever been on airplanes with your family? You know, airplanes have become weapons, OK. Whenever we get on those airplanes now, particularly two days after these guys were threatening to blow the thing up, right. You're sitting on that airplane and you're looking at everybody that's coming on that airplane.

Then you see some guy come on with some Arabic t-shirt that says, "We will not be," you know, whatever the heck, "We will not be silent." Wouldn't that disturb you? Wouldn't that make it uncomfortable? Wouldn't you think that authorities might say who the heck is this guy?

OBLON: Yes, absolutely. It made me very uncomfortable. But the test of the Constitution is not whether David Oblon is uncomfortable. The test is whether the person has a First Amendment right to free speech. If TSA tells the guy, "Look, on this content-based speech, we're going to yank it because it's Arabic and it says that's something relatively benign."

KASICH: But — go ahead.

OBLON: What if somebody got on with a Hebrew t-shirt that's written in Hebrew that said Coca-Cola in it or said something else you couldn't even understand. Would you prohibit him from boarding or force him?

KASICH: Well, I'm going to tell you, first of all, let me make it clear I'm for profiling. I'm a lot more concerned about checking people out that make me nervous and bring suspicion than I am putting my daughter's Barbie flip-flops through a metal detector.

Now you know this guy was looking for trouble. And they were well within their rights to pull him over and say, "Who are you?" You shouldn't be acting like this. I think the guy was trying to bring about an incident.

OBLON: Well, John, you're partially right. When they first took him aside to give him some extra scrutiny, because he was wearing an Arabic shirt or because he behaved in a manner that caused them to have extra suspicion, then the airline was well within their rights to pull him aside and say, "We're going to search you again. We're going to do some extra scrutiny on you." And that's not a violation.

When you enter an airport, as you know, you give up a lot of constitutional rights. You put all your bags through screening to make sure that there's no bomb or anything, without doing an illegal search on the Fourth Amendment. But you give up those rights because there's a greater good.

And so there's nothing wrong with TSA pulling this man aside and giving him some extra scrutiny.

What they did wrong was once they figured he's no longer a threat — after all, they let him board the plane — they then made the extraordinary step of saying, "OK, now take off the shirt. You've got to switch your shirt, because we don't like the message."

And there, the message was not an insightful one, was not a hateful one. It was a relatively benign statement. The one thing that TSA didn't like was that it was in Arabic. Well, that just doesn't cut it.

KASICH: Well, look, I mean, the bottom line here is I think the guy went to the airport to get people stirred up. I think he went there to make a statement. They pulled him over. They told him to cover stuff up and they told him have some common sense.

And now he says he wants an apology or something? What's the story with this guy? What does he need an apology for? Just dress right when you go to an airport.

If I'm the CEO of an airline, you know what? I'm going to put a dress code into effect. That's what I'm going to do. And I'm going to say, "You use your judgment, because people get nervous, and they have a right to feel secure on those planes."

But, you know, David you make a lot of good points, but I'll tell you. I'm pretty hard core on this. Thanks for being with us.

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