Protesters rally against Islamic law in
dozens of U.S. cities
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[June 12, 2017]
By David DeKok and Tom James
HARRISBURG, Pa./SEATTLE (Reuters) -
Protesters held rallies across the United States on Saturday to denounce
sharia law, the Islamic legal and moral code that organizers say poses a
threat to American freedoms, but critics believe anti-Muslim hatred is
behind the condemnation.
ACT for America, a self-described grassroots organization focusing on
national security, staged rallies in New York, Chicago, Boston, Denver
and Seattle, as well as many smaller cities. Hundreds of people pledged
on social media to attend an event that ACT billed as "March against
On the steps of the Pennsylvania state capitol in Harrisburg, barricades
and a heavy police presence, including officers mounted on horses,
separated about 60 anti-sharia demonstrators from an equal number of
counter-protesters. Many of the latter were dressed in black masks and
hoods and chanting "No Trump, no KKK, no Fascist USA."
The atmosphere was tense but the protest went off with no violence and
only one arrest, police said.
More than a dozen men belonging to the anti-government Oath Keepers were
on hand, invited by ACT to provide security. Most of them carried
Chris Achey, 47, of Allentown, Pennsylvania, said he did not hate
Muslims but believes that much of Islam is incompatible with Western
"The Constitution is the law of the land," he said. "We have to be
careful with who we let in the country."
On its website, ACT described sharia, which covers many aspects of
Muslim life including religious obligations and financial dealings, as
incompatible with human rights. It said sharia justifies the oppression
of women and homosexuality, and advocates female genital mutilation.
But critics say the organization vilifies Muslims and has repeatedly
equated Islam with extremism. In their view, the rallies are part of a
wave of anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment fueled by President
Donald Trump, who called for a ban on Muslims entering the country
during his election campaign.
Molly Freiburg, 33, of Philadelphia, was one of the counter-protesters
but not part of the larger group clad in black.
"America is not in danger from sharia law," she said. "This
manifestation at the Capitol is actually a way to make our Muslim
neighbors feel uncomfortable."
A representative for ACT for America could not be reached for comment.
In Seattle, about 75 anti-sharia protesters were outnumbered by
counter-protesters at a rally that was moved from Portland, Oregon.
Tensions are running high in Portland after a man yelling religious and
racial slurs at two teenage girls on a commuter train fatally stabbed
two men who tried to stop him.
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A protester holds a sign during an anti-Sharia rally in Seattle,
Washington, U.S., June 10, 2017. REUTERS/David Ryder
Talbot Sleater, a 62-year-old construction foreman, said that the
Seattle protest was the first of the kind that he had attended. A
Briton who moved to the United States, he said he had decided to go
after recent attacks in his home country.
"People are being run over in the street with trucks and little kids
are being blown up," Sleater said, referring to recent attacks in
London and Manchester. "I don't want that to happen here."
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the country's
largest Muslim advocacy group, urged Americans to participate in one
of several local educational events being organized in "a peaceful
challenge to Saturday's hate rallies."
It also warned Muslims to take extra precautions against potential
violence over the weekend.
Anti-Muslim incidents rose 57 percent last year, including a 44
percent jump in anti-Islamic hate crimes, CAIR said in a report
released in early May.
Oath Keepers said on its website that it was "answering the call to
defend free speech against those who would use terrorist violence or
the threat of violence to shut it down."
The Southern Poverty Law Center says Oath Keepers is "one of the
largest radical antigovernment groups in the United States,"
organized around a "set of baseless conspiracy theories."
Refuse Fascism, a coalition of activists advocating confrontational
tactics to oppose what it calls the Trump "regime," said it would
show up at the rallies "to counter the xenophobic hatred and lies,
defy intimidation and drown it out.”
(Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles and Frank
McGurty in New York; Writing by Frank McGurty; Editing by Marguerita
Choy, Mary Milliken and Chizu Nomiyama)
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