Rather than dwell on a ruling that affirmed freedom of speech but poses the opportunity to poison relations among residents, a coalition of advocates, led by an ecumenical group of faith leaders, gathered to declare that Philadelphia would stay true to its roots of tolerance.
Under gray skies Tuesday afternoon, Mayor Michael A. Nutter led the announcement of the #DareToUnderstand campaign — a response to provocative ads deemed anti-Muslim set to post on SEPTA buses and trolleys in April after SEPTA lost its court battle to bar the campaign. The ads are paid for by the American Freedom Defense Initiative, a cited hate group that has traveled from city to city, buying space on transit systems for ads that depict Muslims as hatemongers who target Jews.
The Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia spearheaded a coalition of concerned residents interested in taking a stand against the ads, a group that includes PCHR and the Mayor’s Office of Faith-Based Initiatives. Hundreds came to LOVE Park as Nutter and a host of speakers all affirmed support for and respect of the First Amendment. By the same token, as the Rev. Judy Sullivan remarked clearly, this group intended to make it known that “we won’t stand by as words and images seek to divide us.”
Since the remedy for hate speech is more speech, enter #DareToUnderstand — a comprehensive resource center that encourages people to take an active, but peaceful role in speaking against hateful and divisive words. People are encouraged to take to social media and use the hashtag along with selfies, poems or other expressions of solidarity. There are also ideas to help parents, teachers, faith leaders or others to open discussions and probe the concept of tolerance further. A campaign to bring awareness of #DareToUnderstand, from billboards to taxi ads. is under way — as is fundraising for those efforts.
Speech may be free, but irresponsible speech should be called out, the presenters at LOVE Park declared. That this is a week considered holy on the calendar of two major faith traditions — Christians are preparing to celebrate Easter while Jews are preparing for Passover — added greater resonance, advocates said.
#DareToUnderstand is a natural extension of the work PCHR does on a daily basis, said Rue Landau, executive director.
“These ads may be a deterrent to our work, but as a city, we’re better than these ads,” Landau said to cheers at LOVE Park. “This is a time we can come together.”
Even dare to understand.