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'Anti-Islam' Billboard Roils St. Augustine Residents

Becky Williams

A St. Augustine Beach billboard critical of Islam is getting quite the response from some First Coast residents.

The message, paid for by an anonymous individual, says “Islam, Bloody Islam: Doomed By Its Doctrine.”

University of North Florida professor Parvez Ahmed said the message perpetuates harmful stereotypes about Muslims and terrorism.

“The rise of anti-Muslim sentiment across the country, partly fueled by the election cycle and the rhetoric from some of the presidential candidates, I think has inflamed people’s passion and the reaction in some sense has been very predictable,” Ahmed said.

Almost immediately after the billboard was unveiled, a petition calling for its removal appeared online. That petition had about 2,500 signatures late Monday afternoon from people across the country and around the globe.

But some online commenters have been critical of that effort, calling it an affront to free speech. Still, Ahmed says both the billboard and the petition calling for its removal are protected under the U.S. Constitution.

“Citizens do have the right to petition, and that’s all the citizens are trying to do over here — to petition the billboard’s owner to be more sensible,” he said.

The billboard’s owner, St. Johns Outdoor Advertising, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Meanwhile, an open house called “Meet Your Muslim Neighbors” is set to take place at the Northeast Florida Islamic Center next month. The public is invited.