TOMS RIVER – Islamic groups called for a Board of Education member to step down over what they referred to as bigoted and hateful Facebook posts.
The New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-NJ) called for Toms River Board of Education member Dan Leonard to resign over posts he had made in April.
One was a repost from a conservative podcaster disparaging Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, a Democrat from Minnesota. When reposting, Leonard commented “Terrorist…100%”
Another was a repost of a Fox News post about Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, a Democrat from Michigan. Leonard commented “My life would be complete if she/they die.”
A third was a repost of a meme showing a Barbie doll with a bruise and a hijab, referring to it as “Sharia Barbie.”
“The bigoted, hateful and threatening social media posts shared by this elected board of education official serve to disqualify him for any position that has responsibility for the safety, security and well-being of New Jersey’s diverse student body,” said CAIR-NJ Executive Director James Sues. “The bigoted views expressed by Mr. Leonard have no place in an educational system that seeks to celebrate diversity and encourage students of all faiths and backgrounds to excel scholastically and to make positive contributions to our society. This is just a painful reminder of the extreme divisiveness that characterizes the current political climate at the national level.”
The Toms River Board of Education is represented by attorney Stephan Leone. An attorney in his practice, Melanie Appleby, said that the board’s position is that Leonard’s statements on social media are his own, and do not represent the board.
Further, the attorney will advise the board to discuss the matter in executive session, she said. This is the portion of public meetings where the officials speak in private.
The board should conduct an investigation whether these statements violate the code of ethics, or statutes relating to bullying or discrimination, she said.
After an initial news report about the issue was made public, Leonard addressed the issues on Facebook, stating that he served in the Middle East doing his part protecting Muslims from radicalized Islamic fundamentalists. Leonard retired from the Army National Guard as a Master Sergeant with the 82nd Airborne Division after 23 years in the Army. He was stationed in the Middle East in 2005 and 2012.
He also fought back against the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “CAIR supports terror organizations and Sharia Law it’s no shock they would put their crosshairs on the First Amendment rights of a decorated combat veteran who has fought to protect Islamic people from oppressive and radical fundamentalist regimes,” he said.
The CAIR press release that called for Leonard to step down defined themselves as a Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization that has a goal to enhance understanding of Islam, protect civil rights, promote justice, and empower American Muslims. It also mentioned that they offer a series of guides to explain Muslim practices to public servants. It noted that they have seen “an unprecedented spike in bigotry targeting American Muslims, immigrants and members of other minority groups since the election of Donald Trump as president.”
Another civil rights group, Muslim Advocates, also called for him to step down.
“No individual who is responsible for governing the education of children should ever engage in hate speech, bigoted conspiracy theories and violent, anti-Muslim rhetoric on social media. The harmful, ugly content that Daniel Patrick Leonard regularly posts to Facebook exposes him as someone wholly unfit to work with the diverse school children in Toms River and the state of New Jersey. Leonard’s views are completely inconsistent with the New Jersey School Boards Association’s mission to promote the achievement of ‘all students.’ He should resign or be removed from both offices. We’re asking New Jersey families of all backgrounds to urge the school boards association to remove him from his leadership position,” wrote Madihha Ahussain, the special counsel for Muslim Advocates.
She illustrated that Facebook posts have deeper impact than people think. “Hateful, dehumanizing posts on social media like the kind shared by Mr. Leonard have serious consequences,” she said. “Rep. Ilhan Omar has already received death threats because people ignorantly and maliciously called her a terrorist and associated her with the 9/11 terror attacks – just as Mr. Leonard did in multiple Facebook posts. He also puts Rep. Rashida Tlaib in danger by effectively wishing that she would die. We have reported these posts to Facebook and await their determination if they are in violation of their content policies.”