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  1. Education

Florida Family Association's David Caton protests Muslim speaker's visits to Hillsborough school

Published Jan. 10, 2012

TAMPA — A history teacher who sought to broaden her students' horizons got more than she bargained for when she invited a Muslim leader to Steinbrenner High School.

Kelly Miliziano now finds herself in the crosshairs of David Caton's Florida Family Association.

Caton, a well-known conservative leader, is calling on the Hillsborough County School Board to end visits by Hassan Shibly of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or allow time for speakers who could counter Shibly's message.

Stephen Hegarty, a spokesman for the school district, said he cannot imagine inviting one speaker to argue against another's religion.

Candy Olson, chairwoman of the School Board, said, "Our kids need to understand a lot of different perspectives. They're going to have to deal with everybody in the world, and they can't just be afraid of them because they don't know them."

Miliziano declined to comment, and Shibly could not be reached for comment Monday evening.

A biography on CAIR's website says Shibly grew up in Buffalo, N.Y., the son of Syrian immigrants, earned a law degree and interned with the New York Civil Liberties Union.

According to Hegarty, Miliziano has invited numerous speakers to the school's history classes, representing a variety of religions including Christianity.

The visits go back years, and Caton's questions go back months.

An exchange of emails, which Hegarty provided to Caton, indicates Shibly was to speak about stereotypes, human rights, women in Islam and other topics.

Shibly sent Miliziano a link to a video about the "Golden Age" of Islam. She thanked him for visiting the school and sharing the video. "We all agree that you did a superb job of presenting to our students," she wrote.

According to Hegarty, word got out about the visits. The school district received more emails, some in support of the lessons and some in opposition.

Caton, who said he has 35,000 members in his organization, is well known in Tampa and often at the center of controversy.

In years' past, he has opposed gay rights and reacted strongly when the School Board took all religious holidays, including Good Friday and Yom Kippur, off the academic calendar.

More recently, Caton opposed a tax to support mass transit and called on advertisers, including the Lowe's home improvement chain, to pull sponsorships from the television program All-American Muslim.

In his current appeal, Caton contends that Shibly is a defender of radical Islamic organizations and clerics. He insists that if Shibly's visits aren't stopped, the school district is obligated to allow equal time to speakers who can present a Christian point of view and paint what Caton calls an accurate picture of Shibly and CAIR.

This week, Caton circulated a letter addressing the School Board. Olson said she had not received it.

"I have not heard from David Caton," she said. "But I'm not sure he thinks much of me."

Marlene Sokol can be reached at sokol@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3356.

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