City officials visited Harry McNevin this week to ask that he remove or alter sign
A Longmont resident has declined city officials’ request that he remove a homemade sign bearing an anti-Muslim message from his front yard after it drew complaints that it promotes hatred.
Painted in red on a wooden board chained to a tree in front of Harry McNevin’s home at 1700 17th Ave. are the words: “Muslim’s kill Muslim’s (sic) if they don’t agree. Where does that leave you, ‘infidel.'”
People have called the message “hate speech,” but Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett said the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects Americans’ ability to express their opinions.
“As offensive as a sign like that might be, most of the time a sign on private property is not going to be a criminal violation of any sort,” Garnett said. “That was our impression here as well.”
McNevin, 83, has lived on 17th Avenue for 40 years. He said the phrase expresses his belief that Muslims are a threat and should not enter the country.
“They’re not our friends, they’re our enemies,” McNevin said. “And as they march up and down in Iran, the Shiites, what do they say? Death to America.”
Longmont Public Safety Chief Mike Butler said he and Carmen Ramirez, the city’s community and neighborhood resources manager, visited McNevin on Monday after hearing concerns from community members fearful of the language.
Butler said he had hoped to “appeal to his sense of civility” by asking McNevin to remove the sign or change the wording.
McNevin interpreted the visit from city officials as their insurance of his safety. He said he has posted other signs in the past, including a “Trump for President” sign that he said a group of kids attempted to steal from his lawn.
He said he believes the new sign is factual and not a generalization. He said he wouldn’t know how to change the wording.
“What’s wrong with our country if people can’t have different opinions?” McNevin said.
‘Wouldn’t want to go around promoting hate’
Longmont resident Shawn Taylor sees it differently. She said the phrase is obvious hate speech that does not belong in Longmont or the country.
“We need to move past this type of hatred and learn to live together,” she wrote in a Facebook comment responding to a Times-Call reporter. ” Just because we have a hater and bigot for our new president, doesn’t mean we as Americans have to follow his lead in that regard.”
She said she and her sister are considering staging a protest in front of McNevin’s house once they figure out exactly what he means so they can craft their retort.
For Kimberley Miller-Sjostrom, the two words “kill Muslims” first caught her attention. She said she had to drive past the sign again to catch the rest of its message, and, even then, she couldn’t tell what the cursive writing underneath said or meant.
“I know that there’s the freedom of speech and freedom of religion,” she said. “For myself, I just wouldn’t want to go around promoting hate.”
‘Maybe if he actually met a Muslim…’
Farah Afzal, outreach team member with the Islamic Center of Boulder, said she had difficulty understanding what McNevin intended by the message. But she sensed animosity toward “a certain group of people.”
“He has a right to express his opinion, but maybe if he actually met a Muslim his views might change,” she said. “Muslims do not hate Americans or, for that sake, any people.”
Afzal said Islam teaches followers to love all of God’s creation, and Muslims condemn killing innocent souls, but it’s the U.S. government’s foreign policies that some people disagree with.
She said all religions have extreme groups, which does not give people the right to generalize a whole population under one banner.
The Islamic Center is hosting an open house from 1 to 3 p.m. Feb. 19 at 5495 Baseline Road in Boulder, and Afzal said McNevin is welcome to meet Muslims there.
“I thank all of our well wishers and hope we can stand together against bigotry towards any group of people,” Afzal said.