The notice in the Fairfax Station Patch on Tuesday was brief, but to Laurie Jaghlit it felt like a punch in the gut.
At the next meeting of Republican Women of Clifton, a guest speaker would discuss “the treatment of women in Islamic society and how she believes the Hijab is a catalyst for Islamic terrorism.”
The Feb. 20 meeting would take place at Fairview Elementary School, five miles from Jaghlit’s house.
Jaghlit, a 52-year-old grandmother who raised nine children in Fairfax Station and Herndon, wears the hijab, or Islamic head covering. She had heard about talks like this in other parts of the country but had never confronted the issue so close to home.
“If that’s not hateful and inciteful speech, I don’t know what is,” she said. “This is a diverse area. You’d think that hopefully we’d be beyond this. “
On Thursday, the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations contacted Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Jack D. Dale and asked him to rescind approval for the group to use the school. In an e-mail that CAIR shared with The Washington Post, Dale denied the request, saying, “After school hours, anyone may rent the public facilty.”
Republican Women of Clifton, a seven-year-old, 100-member club, meets monthly at the school. In a news release, it said the talk, by Stephanie Reis, founder of the Omaha chapter of ACT! for America, “will focus on the treatment of women in Islamic society and how the Hijab is a catalyst for Islamism because it leads to the mentality of passive terrorism and silent support for Sharia Law in Western societies.”
RWC’s president, Alice Butler-Short, identified sharia, or Islamic law, in the news release as one of “the forces working to destroy our liberty.”
Susan Lider, the group’s public relations chairperson, said that while the group often hosts political speakers, she does not recall this kind of controversy before.
“That’s why I was so surprised, because we have speakers all the time on lots of topics,” she said. Lider said Reis had recently moved to the area and joined the club.
Asked if the hijab or sharia were common concerns for club members, Lider said, “Let’s put it this way, it’s one of the things that people talk about.” She said she had been reading up on the hijab, adding, “I don’t know a lot about it other than that I wouldn’t ever want to wear one.”
Reis declined to comment.
The Omaha ACT! for America Web site quotes her as saying, “Although the Omaha area isn’t overrun with militant Islamists, this area is not immune to radical Islamic intimidation. Our chapter seeks to educate local citizens about the war that has been declared on America by jihadists and equip our citizens with peaceful, constructive tools to bring about a positive change in local policy and public opinion.”
The census does not identify people by religion, but according to census statistics, only a few hundred people born in predominantly Muslim countries live in Fairfax Station, and few to none live in Clifton.
Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for CAIR, said holding the meeting at a school would send the wrong message.
“It’s one thing for hatemongers to rent a private facility and spew their bigotry, but it’s another for a taxpayer-funded public school to offer it to speakers who will promote bigotry and intolerance,” he said. “What does it say to the students who have to go to the school the next day, perhaps wearing hijab or being identified as Muslims, the day after someone has been at the school saying the hijab is a catalyst for terrorism?”
Lisa Clickener, president of Fairview Elementary School’s PTA, said the upcoming meeting was not on the radar of the school community. “It hasn’t been advertised to our parents,” she said.
“When I look at the kids in our school, I think that everyone’s really accepting of other cultures,” she added.
A spokesman for Fairfax County Public Schools, whose Web site offers information in Arabic, Farsi and Urdu, said the district does not regulate the speech of groups that rent its facilities.
Nationwide, controversies over using school property for non-school-related events are common, said Charles Haynes, a senior scholar at the First Amendment Center. Districts try to avoid problems by adhering to the same standards for everyone, Haynes said.
“Once they allow community groups to come and use the school during non-school hours, they cannot then say to one of the groups, ‘We’re going to exclude you because we don’t like your viewpoint,’ ” he said.
RWC President Butler-Short, who is listed as a Fairfax and Prince William chapter leader on Act! for America’s Web site, declined to be interviewed but said in an e-mail that “those who disagree with the views of any of the speakers at our club are welcome to express those contrary views in the marketplace of ideas.”
Jaghlit, who works part-time for CAIR, said that she and half a dozen other Muslim women who wear the hijab plan to attend the meeting to “have our non-terrorist voices heard.”
“I’m sure just the presence of hejabi women in the audience will do enough to hopefully get them to realize that this is pure nonsense,” she said, adding that some RWC members may turn out to be people she knows.
“Hey, we’re your neighbors, for God’s sake,” she said. “Is that really what you think about your neighbor?”
Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.