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Shipley slams U.S. attorney’s remarks on anti-Muslim speech

Hank Hayes • Jun 3, 2013 at 11:34 PM

KINGSPORT — Tennessee State Rep. Tony Shipley took a federal prosecutor to task Monday for suggesting that anti-Muslim speech could result in federal charges.

U.S. Attorney William Killian, an Obama administration appointee, is expected to point out at a Coffee County forum today that civil rights can be violated by those who post inflammatory statements targeted at Muslims on social media.

“This community forum is an educational effort to inform the community about civil rights laws as they play into the exercise of religious freedom,” Killian said of the event in an emailed statement. “Our purpose is to simply facilitate discussion towards the goal of greater tolerance, understanding and peaceful community relations, as well as to inform the public about what federal laws are in effect and what the consequences are for violating them, including what speech is protected and what speech could be considered a threat under the law.”

Shipley, who chairs a state House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, told a Greater Kingsport Republican Women’s luncheon that Killian is failing to support the Constitution’s guarantee of free speech.

“The Constitution trumps all in this country,” Shipley, R-Kingsport, told the luncheon. “You don’t take our rights away for people who don’t speak English, period.”

Coffee County Commissioner Barry West posted on his Facebook page that Muslims are best greeted behind the barrel of a rifle.

“(West) pointed at the screen and said ‘This is how you wink at a Muslim,’” Shipley said of the posting. “We don’t like it, but it’s freedom of expression. ... He has a right to be stupid. ... It strikes me that federal charges ought to be brought against (Killian) for violating our constitutional rights. .. He took an oath saying he would support and defend the Constitution.”

Shipley said he has sent a letter asking Killian to explain his remarks and provided copies to Tennessee GOP U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker.

“I am hoping that he had a poor choice of words,” Shipley said. “I hope we discover he was not intentionally trying to frighten Tennesseans into censoring free speech. With the discoveries of (Internal Revenue Service) abuse of American citizens just because they are conservatives ... and (U.S. Justice Department) spying on the press, and growing doubts about the Obama administration’s respect for the individual rights of all Americans, these comments come at a particularly inopportune time.”

In a December 2010 speech, Attorney General Eric Holder reassured a Muslim group that the U.S. Department of Justice is dedicated to protecting them.

Killian, who serves the Eastern District of Tennessee, is responsible for prosecuting federal criminal violations throughout the district’s 41 counties, which extend from Johnson County in Northeast Tennessee to Lincoln County in the middle of the state.

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