Battle rages over Easter Egg hunt in Dearborn
By Ray Hanania
As Christian Arabs prepare to celebrate Holy Week and Easter following 40 days of Lenten observances, a controversy has risen over whether or not a school in Dearborn should have been used to promote an Easter Egg hunt by a local Presbyterian Church.
Majed Moughni, a well-known personal injury attorney in Greater Detroit, said that one of his two children in elementary school and who is studying the U.S. Constitution in his social studies class, said he thought promoting the Easter Egg Hunt by the church at the school through several classes violated the Constitution’s separation of Church and State provisions.
Moughni, who is Muslim complained, and the complaint was picked up and showcased in a news story published in the Detroit Free Press, by-lined by ethnic and religious affairs writer Niraj Warikoo. Click to view story.
The story created a firestorm as many in the Greater Detroit Arab community, including in dueling Facebook posts and on Twitter, complained the story made it seem as if Muslims don’t support Christians.
“My son, who was studying the Constitution, stated that he felt that schools and churches shouldn’t be mixed,” explained Moughni about his children a daughter, 7, and son, 9, at one of the schools where the flyers promoting an April 12 event at the Cherry Hill Presbyterian Church were distributed during school class time.
“I asked them if they wanted me to do something about it and they both said yes. So I did. I used my First Amendment right and freedom of speech to convey my displeasure with the school distributing flyers for events being held at a church. I used my Facebook page and found out that I wasn’t the only parent that felt it was wrong.”
Moughni has been criticized by some Muslim activists and leaders who argued that his protests, published in the Detroit Free Press, cast Muslims as being anti-Christian.
Osama Siblani, the publisher of the widely respected Arab American News, blasted Moughni in a posting on his Facebook Page.
“Once again, local attorney Majed Moughni stuck his foot in his mouth. But this time the Muslim community is paying heavily in bad publicity for Moughni’s few seconds of media extravaganza,” Siblani wrote citing the newspaper headline “Muslim parents upset over school flyer promoting local church’s Easter egg hunt.”
“The Free Press quotes only Moughni to justify the headline, bringing thousands of angry comments against Muslims in a matter of few minutes after it was posted on the paper’s website and Facebook. Moughni’s hunt for brief fame is reckless, dangerous and irresponsible. He only represents himself and doesn’t speak on behalf of the thousands of Muslims in Dearborn. Let it be known that Dearborn’s Muslims are not rioting or angry over such a flyer.”
Siblani, who was inducted last year in the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame, said that he and other Greater Detroit Muslims “stand in solidarity with our Christian brothers and sisters as we celebrate together the Easter holiday. Shame on those who divide us!”
On his Facebook Page, Siblani announced that he and other Muslims from the Greater Detroit region would host a “Muslim Eggstravaganza Appreciation Day in Dearborn” for the Cherry Hill Presbyterian Church today (Sunday, April 6, 2014) at the Dearborn church at 24110 Cherry Hill Road. Click to view Osama Siblani’s Facebook Page. Sunday April 6 is called “Passion Sunday” in the Christian Calendar. Lent officially ends on Sunday April 13, Palm Sunday.
“The Muslim and Arab communities in Dearborn invite you to join us as we gather in solidarity with Cherry Hill Presbyterian Church congregations to show our support, friendship and appreciation for the church’s efforts to bring us together,” the statement explained. “The gathering will also send a powerful message to those who are trying to divide us and turn us against each other: We will remain united as one diverse community.”
The controversy comes one week before Palm Sunday (April 13) and two weeks before Easter Sunday (April 20), which this year is celebrated on the same dates by both mainstream Christians and Arab Orthodox Christians.
The Arab American News is the only daily Arab American newspaper in America and has been publishing steadily for more than 30 years. The newspaper’s issue this week leads with a front page article on their website blasting the Detroit Free Press for “smearing” the Dearborn Muslim community with their story. Click to read the story.
More than a dozen leaders from the American Arab and Muslim community attended the solidarity event at Cherry Hill Presbyterian Church Sunday.
Moughni is no stranger to controversy and he says he has been the target of much anti-Muslim hate and personal attacks on Facebook, on the Internet and in emails.
The well known activist last year was targeted by lawyers for McDonalds when the fast food franchise chain was accused of falsely claiming to serve “Halal Chicken” to customers at a restaurant in the largely Muslim and Arab Dearborn community.
Moughni used his Facebook Page to criticize plans to disperse the class action settlement money to organizations rather than to the Muslim community. Click to read story.
Wayne County Judge Kathleen Macdonald issued a controversial order censoring Moughni’s right to free speech, ordering him to remove criticism of the agreement from his Facebook Page. Moughni complied but the ban was later lifted in the face of overwhelming First Amendment criticism.
The $700,000 McDonald’s settlement was dispersed, according to media reports: $275,000 to the Huda Clinic, a Muslim health center in Detroit; $150,000 to the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn; and $25,000 to Ahmed Ahmed, a Dearborn Heights man who filed the original lawsuit against McDonald’s on Nov. 23, 2011 alleging that when McDonald’s ran out of Halal Chicken, they began serving non-Halal chicken to unsuspecting customers. The remainder of $250,000 went to the law firm that filed the class action lawsuit.
Moughni filed a lawsuit in April 2013 following disclosure of the settlement disbursement arguing that the money should be distributed to the public impacted by the McDonald’s action.
McDonald’s only has two restaurants that serve Halal food and both were in Dearborn. Halal food is very similar to Kosher food and merely certifies that food is handle per the regulations recognized by the religion. McDonalds eventually dropped serving Halal chicken in Dearborn after the controversy, but maintains Halal restaurants in the Arab World. Click to read story.
Moughni reminded his critics that he has been unhesitant in standing up to defend Christians, noting how he defended four Christians who were accosted by Dearborn Police at the 2012 Dearborn Arab Festival. The Christian protesters, however, were alleged to have been associated with others who many believed disrespected Muslims. The police apologized for the harassment and later the ArabFest was cancelled the following year. Click to read story.
Moughni noted he defended Wayne County Judge Bill Callahan who was accused of forcing a Muslim woman to remove her hijab in his courtroom in 2010. Moughni reportedly argued that she wasn’t wearing a hijab but rather an elaborate scarf and she never complained when the judge issued his order. Click to read story. Click to read CAIR story.
“At the end of the day, I stand up for what I perceive as an injustice. And it doesn’t matter which side of the coin it’s on,” Moughni said defiantly.
Referencing the Easter Egg Hunt story, Moughni explained, “Although I have no control how the story was written, I don’t necessary agree with the slant it took, but, I can imagine that some newspapers will twist the story to get attention, and attention they got. Again, although I believe this is an issue of Separation of Church and State, I believe the bigger issue here the Freedom of Speech. Look at the double standard. Others Burn the Quran, mock the Prophet of Islam, and make silly movies about him and they call it Free Speech. I merely voiced my opinion over a flyer that was shoved into my kids’ public school mail box and Hell breaks loose. Where is the justice? Not here in Dearborn.”
Moughni is correct that battles have been waged to prevent Muslims from assimilating their traditions into the public schools, and plans to build mosques have been confronted repeatedly across the nation by Americans who have made the ridiculous but racist allegation that a mosque would serve as a springboard for “Jihadist terrorism.”
(Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter and columnist. He is the managing editor of the Arab Daily News at www.TheArabDailyNews.com.)