Freedom of speech, or hate speech?
After Dennis Murdy of East Peoria, Illinois, put up a controversial lawn display on his front yard, people in the community are at odds over whether it's a legitimate political statement, or a hateful message that could spur others to violence.
The display in question involves two large, wooden silhouettes painted black — one of them is clearly a hunter pointing a rifle. Directly across from the hunter, Peoria's Journal Star reported, is a cut-out of a vaguely Middle Eastern-looking figure with a turban, his arms in the air as if in surrender.
"The Muslims," Murdy told WKTV. "Islam. It's one of the most violent cults there is. It is not a religion, it's a cult. The Koran says nothing but violence."
Murdy is a 64-year-old retiree who worked in construction and in a factory. According to Journal Star columnist Phil Luciano, Murdy's wide corner lot provides "drive-by exposure" along a "well-traveled" residential road just beyond the city limits.
In an interview with Luciano, Murdy railed against the Obama Administration, challenges to Second Amendment rights, and disrespect for the American military. He told the Journal Star that passersby will park and talk to him if he's in his yard.
“I’ve had lots of people stop,” Murdy said. “They like what they see. Some take pictures.”
Local authorities are aware of Murdy's display, and the local police force, the Tazewell County Sheriff’s Office, sent a deputy to document the silhouettes, according to the Journal Star. But the deputy "did not see this as a police matter," Sheriff Bob Huston said.
State authorities didn't reply when the newspaper asked whether the lawn display violates any laws or local ordinances.
Muslims in Peoria say they believe the silhouettes qualify as hate speech, according to WKTV.
"Free speech should not be mixed with hate speech," said Imam Kamil Mufti with the Islamic Foundation of Peoria. "It's extremely important and we have to draw that line. If Islamophobia is going to be acceptable, by the same token, anti-semitism and racism would be acceptable. That is wrong."
Murdy said he had no intention of removing the display, but on March 1, he discovered someone had stolen the Muslim figure from his lawn.
"They’re calling me a hater,” he told the Journal Star. “They’re the haters. I’m just a lonely man in the desert, calling out what’s going on in the country.”