MANSFIELD -- Mansfield City Schools has withdrawn its permission for a community group to hold a controversial speaking event at a district facility tonight.
Speaking at a press conference at the school's central office this morning, Superintendent Dan Freund said that, after consulting with Mansfield police, the school decided it could not guarantee public safety at a Mansfield North Central Ohio Tea Party Association event scheduled for 7 p.m. in the Mansfield Senior High School community room.
The speaker, Usama Dakdok, has been characterized by detractors as "anti-Islamic" and talks were under way by some community members to protest the event.
“We weren’t sure how many people the event would draw, both by those who support it and oppose it,” Freund said. “We have kids in and around the building well into the evening and we wanted to ensure their safety.”
He said he received a variety of phone calls and about 100 emails from people around the country objecting to the event. Freund said none of the messages he read threatened violence.
He said the school district's decision to cancel the event was prompted by safety concerns alone, not by the presumed content of the scheduled speaker's message.
Bonnie Oleksa, an organizer with the tea party group that invited Dakdok, said she is disappointed with the school district’s decision. She said Freund was pressured by the NAACP and other groups to cancel permission for the event.
“I thought in the United States we lived under the constitution, but it looks to me we are under Sharia law already,” she said.
Oleksa said the group has scheduled a new location for tonight’s speaking event, 1456 Park Avenue West, Suite J. Attendees are asked to bring their own lawn chair.
Oleksa said she disagrees with the characterization of Dakdok and his beliefs as anti-Muslim. She said she heard about Dakdok, who lives in Florida, from another tea party group he addressed. The Mansfield presentation is free but donations will be accepted.
The Mansfield Branch of NAACP held a joint press conference this morning with several civil rights groups and religious organizations to applaud Mansfield City Schools for canceling the speaking event.
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