Protesters disrupt Muslim discussion in Orland Park
By Donna Vickroy firstname.lastname@example.org August 26, 2013 10:16PM
Orland Park Public Library spokeswoman Bridget Bittman looks at books from the library's new Muslim collection. | Donna Vickroy~Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 29, 2013 6:23AM
Orland Park Public Library officials were prepared for some tension when they launched the monthlong series, “Bridging Cultures Bookshelf: Muslim Journeys” at the beginning of August.
But they did not expect things to escalate to the point that police would have to be called in.
About 10 audience members at Thursday’s presentation on “Muslims Today,” a panel discussion featuring people who chose the Muslim faith, heckled and interrupted panelists and were asked to stop, Bridget Bittman, spokeswoman for the library, said. When they wouldn’t, Orland Park police were called in as a safety precaution, Bittman said.
“We just wanted to make sure that the panelists and the other audience members would be OK when they left,” she said.
No arrests were made, but Bittman said one of the hecklers got into a verbal dispute with police.
Bittman said the sentiment of the protestors was that the panel was “un-American.”
“They were a panel of academics, people who came here to further education, to help others understand,” she said.
She said library officials became concerned earlier Thursday when members of a local Tea Party chapter sent emails to another newspaper, announcing that they were encouraging members to disrupt that evening’s panel discussion — the final program in a series that also looked at Muslim art, literature and folklore.
Led by Thomas Maguire, a professor in the University of Chicago’s School of Middle Eastern Studies and a convert to the Muslim faith, the panel members on Thursday were to explain why they chose the religion.
But before library staff could introduce the panel, hecklers interrupted, demanding that the Pledge of Allegiance be recited, Bittman said. When staff informed the audience that the pledge was never recited before library events, the protestors became even more vocal, she said.
“It was contentious,” she said. “But I’m really proud of our staff and of the panelists. Everyone remained calm.”
It was regrettable that the other 50 or so people who came to hear the discussion had to endure the disruptions, Bittman said.
“Still, we think those who came with an open mind left with a greater understanding, and that was our objective,” she said.
The discussion was the only event in the series that had a disturbance, Bittman said, adding that the series was well attended overall.
The Bridging Cultures discussions were financed by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities that the Orland Park library also used to buy fiction and nonfiction books and DVDs on the Muslim experience.
“I’m happy to say most of those books are checked out,” Bittman said.
She said library officials knew the Muslim series “might create some controversy. But we’re so proud to be able to offer programs like this, that make people think about liberty. That’s what the library represents. Freedom, to read as well as to speak and practice religion.”