Originally published May 25, 2016 at midnight, updated May 25, 2016 at midnight
The sign said, “Wake up Christians, Allah is not our God, Muhammad not Greater than Jesus.”
A group of 20 or so people, and about 10 counter-protesters, held a peaceful protest on Belmont Drive Sunday in front of Belmont Drive Missionary Baptist Church, which in recent weeks has displayed messages including the above-mentioned, to the chagrin of some local residents who interpret the messages as anti-Muslim.
The sign has been the subject of numerous letters to the editor (including this edition, page A4) and has received some national media coverage.
Event organizer Rachel Harry, of Hood River, said, “We decided to do this, not so much that we thought we could get them to take the sign down, I don’t seriously suspect that that’s going to happen, but we want to show the Muslim families in this town support. We’re here for them.”
Protesters’ signs included “Neighbor, take down the sign,” and “Allah is God in another language,” while church supporters held signs that read, “We support freedom of speech” and “Beware Satan, Mormons, Watchtower, Cults.”In a Facebook posting, Harry noted that “Although the pastor (Mike Harrington) said he had Muslim friends and this wasn’t about directing attacks at the Muslims, it is very apparent it is about Muslims and 9/11 and the war.
“In the 1940s, the Japanese families were interned and that caused a lot of strife, and a lot of that anger is still around, and we want to stop that,” said Harry. “We want to let people know that we’re here for them. Even if it’s just being here, right now, to show support.”
Cody Kendall, event participant, said, “We’re here in peace, and we’re pretty diverse in our views in this group. Everyone has their chance to have their own voice and stuff, and I don’t think that’s going to be solved by putting up a very directed sign towards one demographic of people. I think if you’re going to voice an opinion on a sign, it should be talking in a more positive framework to a group of people.”
Dale Brown, from the Yakima Valley, heard about the event on the Internet, and he and his wife had signs supporting the church.
“I’m supporting the local pastor and his freedom of expression,” Brown said. “I’ve been around the block a few times doing outreach to Muslims since 1988, I’ve been on TV programs and whatnot. We’re Christians, I’m not shy about saying Mohammed is a false prophet, he was a warlord. I don’t think we should be shy about pointing out a little bit of history, Islam invaded Constantinople, which is now Istanbul, and they invaded Spain and had to be driven out in 1492. We should learn from history.”
Ano ther man and his wife, who were members of the Belmont Drive Missionary Baptist Church and did not want to be identified, said they were at the rally to support the pastor and the decision to display the current readerboard sign.
Kendall said, “You read a sign and say to yourself, well, that’s what they think, and they can’t adjust anything they say ... We’re all people, we’re all Americans, we all have the same rights as humans, we have to uphold that as much as possible and we’re not going to achieve that by pointing fingers and playing such a selfish game.”
While the protest and counter-protest remained peaceful, Harry noted on Facebook that “a large group of people were there to support the church’s stance that they can post anti-Muslim slurs on their public sign. Some were religious, but there were also people who were there to protest the right for the church to say what they think.
“A few were waving flags and taking lots of videos of us. One man paraded back and forth on the edge of the property with handcuffs and an earpiece. Maybe they thought we were going to ‘cause trouble’? Some rudeness and provocative statements, a mud covered truck raced at top speed past us. Our teens were awesome and held their ground with them.”