Toms River school official gets heat over ‘bigoted’ Islam memes
A Toms River Board of Education member faces pressure to resign over controversial social media posts that one civil rights group described "bigoted, hateful and threatening."
This is the second time this month that Daniel Leonard, a Beachwood resident, is making headlines. Leonard was ticketed two weeks ago in an alleged road rage incident in Toms River, given summonses for reckless driving and failure to maintain travel lane.
On his Facebook page, Leonard shared a post in April, depicting an image of U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., and a headline that said she called "for hunger strikes to end ICE" with the added personal caption, “My life would be complete if she/they die...”
A separate April post by Leonard shared a video featuring U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., a Muslim immigrant, with Leonard's caption: "Terrorist....... 100%."
The post he shared referred to her controversial quote from a speech regarding the September 11 attacks. At a March banquet for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Omar said “CAIR was founded after 9/11, because they recognized that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties.”
Other, more recent Facebook posts by Leonard also make derogatory references to "Sharia law."
On Tuesday, the New Jersey chapter of CAIR released a statement calling for Leonard to step down.
"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."
CAIR is America's largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization.
When asked for comment, Leonard said in a written response: "there is a difference between being Anti-Muslim and Anti-Sharia Law! I am Anti-Sharia Law as should every United States Citizen!"
Muslim advocates point out that criticisms of Sharia law is often employed by people engaged in anti-Muslim bigotry. According to a description by the nonprofit Islamic Networks Group, "American Muslims practice Sharia on a voluntary, private basis." The group also said "essential parts of Sharia are practices such as daily prayers, fasting during the month of Ramadan, marriage contracts, and rules for charity and investments."
On Facebook, Leonard said CAIR is "a pro-terror agency" and said the council was coming after "a Combat Veteran's Freedom of Speech."
Leonard shared the CAIR-NJ press release on Twitter Tuesday with the caption "Help Needed" and tagging multiple Fox News TV hosts, including Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson and Jesse Watters as well as conservative Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk.
A second national, civil rights organization today launched a campaign calling on the New Jersey School Boards Association to remove Leonard from his position.
“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," Muslim Advocates special counsel for anti-muslim bigotry, Madihha Ahussain said.
An attorney who represents the Board of Education on Wednesday released a statement distancing the district and the board from Leonard's online comments.
The Toms River Board of Education has been advised of allegations regarding comments posted on Facebook by a member of the Board, Dan Leonard, who was operating solely in his personal capacity. Accordingly, the Board had no part in such posting and those statements do not represent the opinions and positions of the Board. The Board will investigate and confer with the Board attorney as to any possible violations of the school board code of ethics and other applicable statutory provisions, and determine any appropriate course of action with regard to the Board member. The Board does not endorse, support or comment on any private social media page or group, and will not tolerate racist, incendiary or offensive language on its official platforms.
New Jersey 101.5 received the statement via attorney Melanie Szuba-Appleby of the firm Carluccio, Leone, Dimon, Doyle & Sacks.
The Board of Education has a meeting set for Wednesday evening. Szuba-Appleby said issues raised about Leonard's social media posts would be discussed in closed-door executive session.
Leonard served as a paratrooper in the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division in Afghanistan.
He was elected to the township Board of Education in 2016, when he easily defeated two opponents for the Beachwood seat, securing 55% of all votes cast, 1,947 out of 3,493.
He is up for re-election in November.
In July 2017, he faced a civil harassment complaint filed by then-school board member Robert Onofrietti Jr., who claimed that Leonard parked his truck outside Onofrietti's home for half an hour.
The charges were dropped about a month later by Onofrietti.
In 2018, an ethics complaint was filed with the state against Leonard by former school board member Christopher Raimann. The complaint said Leonard used his Facebook page to "repeatedly posted 'confidential matters' which should not be known to the public."
Leonard's 2016 Toyota Tundra had to be towed from the scene of the two-vehicle accident on July 6 on Hooper Ave. The driver of the other vehicle, a white Audi sedan, said to officers that he "feared for his life" during the encounter, while three witnesses said that Leonard was traveling at a high rate of speed and at one point began chasing the sedan.
Leonard repeatedly has denied the police report findings and has countered by saying he was "brake checked" and almost died, while sharing crude comments on his Facebook page about the other driver, whom he said was "an Illegal Gay Male Escort."
Police said that Leonard's statement changed multiple times when they were speaking with him, and said that he was "agitated and uncooperative" during the crash investigation.
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