Building Bridges: Muslim and Secular Communities for Free Speech

May 27, 2010

I’m the co-founder and Service Project Coordinator for the Secular Humanist Alliance of Chicago (SHAC), and we’ve got a big event coming up in less than a week. See below for more information — please come and invite others!

WHEN: Wednesday June 2 (6/2) at 6 PM
WHERE: 910 W. Van Buren St., 4th Floor
WHO: Secular and Muslim Chicagoans
WHAT: An event convening the secular and Muslim communities of Chicago to write letters for Amnesty International to defend free speech as an alternative to “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day.”

amnesty-internationalThe Secular Humanist Alliance of Chicago (SHAC) is partnering with members of Chicago’s Muslim community to promote free speech and demonstrate that people of different religions and no religion at all can collaborate around common values. This event comes in the wake of Everybody Draw Muhammad Day (EDMD), a campaign for free speech done as a reaction to the recent censorship of a South Park episode featuring a depiction of the Prophet Muhammad, as well as a death threat to the creators of the show. Many secular student groups and individuals participated in drawing representations of Muhammad (an offensive act to many Muslims) as an attempt to promote free speech. However, in doing so they attacked and alienated a specific religious group.
Because EDMD was purportedly about advocating for freedom of speech, SHAC is engaged in a project that will specifically address the issue of free speech. Rather than directly respond to EDMD, we want to move forward with the mission that EDMD aimed to fulfill – advocating for free speech – but do so in a way that more directly addresses the issue without targeting our Muslim brothers and sisters. The intention is that it will stand as an example of how diverse groups can collaborate to advocate for free speech through a more effective tactic than EDMD.
Scheduled for Wednesday June 2nd at 6pm on the fourth floor of 910 W. Van Buren St. Chicago, IL 60607, this event will find secular folks and Muslims coming together to write letters for Amnesty International USA’s Shi Tao case. In 2004, Chinese journalist Shi Tao used his Yahoo! email account to send a message to a U.S.-based pro-democracy website. In his email, he summarized a government order directing media organizations in China to downplay the upcoming 15th anniversary of the 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy activists. Police arrested him in November 2004, charging him with “illegally providing state secrets to foreign entities.” Authorities used email account holder information supplied by Yahoo! to convict Shi Tao in April 2005 and sentence him to 10 years in prison. You can find more information on his case here.

RSVP on Facebook or Bridge-Builders!
Interested in being an event partner or affiliate? Contact Chris at!


4 Responses to “Building Bridges: Muslim and Secular Communities for Free Speech”

  1. Hitch said

    Sounds great. Hope the question of how to deal with criticism will also be a core point of discussion, because that’s where free speech matters the most and is most difficult. To speak freely about uncontentious points is easy after all. Most difficult it seems to me is the question of criticism of dogmas and forms of criticism where all parties have a say. EDMD has shown quite clearly that we are still very far from having that be possible. Anything that helps make progress will be wonderful!

  2. […] WW(I)JD: Crossing the Indiana Jones Bridge, Together Today’s guest post comes from Joseph R. Varisco, a member of the Secular Humanist Alliance of Chicago (SHAC). It is a response to Everybody Draw Muhammad Day and an explanation of why SHAC is organizing a different kind of event for tomorrow (details here.) […]

  3. […] WW(I)JD: Crossing the Indiana Jones Bridge, Together by Chris Stedman on June 1, 2010 Don’t miss SHAC member Joseph R. Varisco’s guest blog on NonProphet Status, which talks about SHAC’s big event tomorrow! […]

  4. […] of the Secular Humanist Alliance of Chicago (SHAC). Kelley offers a reflection on our recent “Building Bridges: Muslim and Secular Communities for Free Speech” event (which was, amazingly, reported on from as far away the New Delhi Chronicle). For […]

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