Anti-Sharia groups said their right to free speech is being compromised after a Tennessee Hotel canceled their conference, where they planned to discuss possible measures to protect the U.S. Constitution against Islamic laws.
The Sharia Awareness Action Network is "following a dual track of legal action and seeking a new venue" for its first national conference on Sharia, titled "The Constitution or Sharia: Preserving Freedom Conference," according to the group’s website. The conference's host, Hutton Hotel, reneged on its $8,000 contract to accommodate the event scheduled for Nov. 11, citing a potential risk to their employees.
SAAN Chairman William J. Murray believes the change of heart infringes on the group's right to express their sincerely-held beliefs.
"If the Council on American Islamic Relations scheduled a conference at the Hutton, its management would never bow to pressure and cancel the event," he declared in a statement. "The Hutton is in effect saying that Christians and Jews who are concerned about the imposition of Sharia in this country are not allowed to speak out."
Sharia – meaning "the path" – is an Islamic law taken from the Muslim holy book, the Quran. Sharia is followed in some Middle East countries. U.S. states such as Tennessee, Texas and Georgia have pursued Sharia bans for fear the foreign law will creep into the American legal system.
While some refute the notion that Sharia could overtake the U.S. legal system, groups such as Stop Islamization of America, Virginia Anti-Sharia Task Force and Jihad Watch are outspoken about the potential threat the religious system may pose. Some of those groups are also involved in the November conference.
Murray said the Nashville hotel's decision to cancel the event is a "blow" to free speech.
The Hutton Hotel is operated by Amerimar Enterprises. The hotel operator manages 14 different hotels.
Stephen W. Eckley, Amerimar Enterprises' senior vice president of hotels, admitted to local newspaper The Tennessean that the conference’s anti-Sharia agenda led it to cancel their contract.
"If this group had let us know what kind of program they were planning and who was involved, we wouldn't have booked it," Eckley said.
He said the conference's focus on seminar topics such as "religious persecution under Sharia," "Sharia and Jihad" and "the Muslim Brotherhood in America" has prompted fears of protests and disruptions to the conference and hotel employees. Amerimar Enterprises is not willing to take that risk, he stressed.
"I'd rather face a lawsuit than have one of my employees get hurt," he told The Tennessean.
Murray complained that Amerimar Enterprises is willing to take a risk to host pro-Sharia events. He charged that one of its properties, St. Ermin's Hotel in London, hosted a conference on "Sharia compliant finance."
Murray told The Christian Post that he found out about the pro-Sharia conference in Google searches. CP conducted a similar search and found that the September 2010 Transnational Life Insurance conference was held at St. Ermin's Hotel. Murray confirmed that the conference was the one he was referring to.
Among the 2010 conference's many seminars was one titled "An Emerging Market: Sharia-Compliant Life Insurance." The seminar was taught by Mohammad Khan of London firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. Khan "is responsible for leading and coordinating the international accounting firm's Islamic finance practice in the United Kingdom," according to the London conference brochure.
No Islamic groups including CAIR were among the conference's listed organizers, gold sponsors, endorsing organizations or media partners.
Still, Murray told CP Amerimar Enterprises' decision not to honor their contract is reprehensible, and he hopes to "force" the hotel to host the conference.
"We are going to force them to have this conference," Murray said. "We are currently looking for another site because we have to but in the meantime, we are pursuing [legal action against Amerimar Enterprises] actively to do this."
SAAN said the conference will remain in Nashville, Tenn., as planned. The group is in talks with the conservative law firm Liberty Counsel to weigh its legal options. Liberty Counsel's chairman, Mathew Staver, is scheduled to speak at the conference.