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Panel at Hickman High School discusses construction of Islamic center near site of 9/11

Tuesday, September 28, 2010 | 10:21 p.m. CDT; updated 11:30 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, September 29, 2010

COLUMBIA — Nearly all 150 seats were filled in the commons area at Hickman High School for the 22nd year of the Speak Your Mind Series Forum on Monday night.

The chairs were set up in rows in front of tables filled with sweets, facing a stage where the panel sat and flags of different countries hung from the ceiling.

The event featured a panel discussion, and the chosen issue concerned building an Islamic center near Ground Zero.

George Frissell, a faculty facilitator of the series, said the steering committee, made up of nine students and himself, picked the issue because they felt it was timely.

"The students said that many of the other issues could be discussed at another point in the year, but the Islamic center is something that is happening now,” Frissell said.

A process that started at the beginning of the school year selected this issue. The committee spent a week letting students submit suggestions during lunchtime. 

Once the week was over, the committee picked the 20 topics that received the most votes. The committee then randomly selected 400 students in grades 10-12 and let them pick again.

The construction of the Islamic center actually received the second  highest number of votes, but due to its relevant nature, the committee decided it was the best choice.

To begin the event, two students from the committee introduced the other members and explained their topic selection process. Frissell then presented an overview of the event.

“What we are here to do tonight is to exercise our constitutional rights. Our right to freedom of speech,” he said.

The panelists and their respective positions on the issue are listed below:

Robert Baum, associate professor and chair of the Department of Religious Studies at MU:

“There is no question that the Constitution prohibits discrimination against any religion, including Islam in the establishment of houses of worship...Most people don’t know this, but there was a mosque in the World Trade Center."

Rashed Nizam, chairman of the Mid-Missouri Islamic center:

“Muslims believe that the way to peace is through submission to God. There is a small group of people who have spread this misunderstanding about this and have continued the intolerance and bigotry...We must have a mutual understanding and a mutual trust to make this country better.”

Bruce Cornett, Boone County Republican Party chair:

“I think it would be wise not to build it because of public opinion...I also think it would be very good for Muslim Americans either not to build it or make sure it’s a center where all religions can come and study and learn and practice their religions.”

Kevin Warner, associate youth pastor at Evangelical Free Church of Columbia:

I thought of three things. The first one is I think by putting it there it sends really the wrong message...The second thing is I really think it’s an issue of insensitivity to the victims and the families. I also had this question of do they have the right to be there? I think they do have right to be there in a lot of ways. But, just because you have a right to do something doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.”

Sarah Read, president of the Communication Center in Columbia, did not officially take a position at the forum.

The facilitator was Phil Overeem, an English teacher at Hickman.

After the panel gave their opinions, students were encouraged to ask questions and indulge in refreshments .

There will be three more forums, for which the topics have yet to be decided, as part of this year's series.


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