Home improvement giant Lowe's Cos. continues to come under heavy criticism from activists, some politicians and customers after pulling its ads from a reality TV show featuring Muslim Americans.
The North Carolina company decided to stop advertising on the show "All-American Muslim," on Discovery Communications Inc.'s TLC channel, after complaints by the Florida Family Assn., a conservative Christian group that lobbies companies to promote "traditional, biblical values."
The association praised the move, but the decision sparked immediate backlash. State Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) called the move "bigoted, shameful, and un-American." A petition on SignOn.org that calls on companies to keep advertising on the show has gathered more than 13,000 signatures. Activist and actress Mia Farrow joined the battle in a Twitter post and urged a boycott of Lowe's.
In its defense, Lowe's spokeswoman Karen Cobb said the company had a "long-standing commitment" to diversity and pulled the ads only after the show became "a lightning rod for people to voice complaints from a variety of perspectives." Other companies had also removed their ads from the show, she wrote in an email.
"All-American Muslim," which premiered last month, follows the day-to-day lives of five Muslim American families in Dearborn, Mich., a suburb of Detroit with a large Muslim population. Cast members talk about how their faith affects their actions and choices.
The conservative Christian group, based in Tampa, Fla., called the show "propaganda" that "hides the Islamic agenda's clear and present danger to American liberties and traditional values." The organization began an email campaign urging companies to yank their advertising off the show. The group did not respond to an email Monday requesting comment on the reaction to its effort.
Laurie Goldberg, a spokeswoman for the Discovery Network and TLC Network, declined to comment on whether any companies besides Lowe's had pulled their ads. "We stand behind the show 'All-American Muslim,' and we're happy the show has strong advertising support," she wrote in an email.
In a letter, Lieu, the state senator, urged Lowe's to reverse its decision and apologize to Muslim Americans.
"The show is basically about Americans who happen to be Muslim," Lieu said in an interview. "For Lowe's to say that the show is dangerous, or agree that it's dangerous or somehow showing anything other than American Muslims as normal, is quite outrageous."
Lieu said he would consider urging a boycott and drafting a legislative resolution denouncing the company's actions. He said he would give Lowe's until Friday to respond.
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the first Muslim American elected to Congress, issued a statement condemning Lowe's for deciding to "uphold the beliefs of a fringe hate group and not the creed of the 1st Amendment."
At a Lowe's store in Burbank, some customers expressed opposition to the retailer's actions.
"It's pretty ridiculous," said Nate Childress, 28, of North Hollywood. "The show has a great concept, and it's showing a different view of Muslims than what's constantly blasted at us in the U.S."
Childress said that even if the company had a "knee-jerk reaction" to the conservative group, that doesn't excuse its actions. "That just frustrates me, that a company would actually be afraid to advertise on a show about Muslims that aren't terrorists," he said.
Bob Clendenin of Burbank echoed that sentiment. "It just sounds like bigotry," said the 47-year-old actor. "When a company takes a stand like that, that just makes me angry."
He said he would boycott the chain until Lowe's reinstated its ads and apologized.
The broader Muslim American community is also considering taking action, said Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Los Angeles chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Muslim community leaders and interfaith groups were meeting to discuss boycotts, petitions, rallies and other forms of protest against Lowe's, he said.
"Hate groups are entitled to their bigotry — that is the beauty of America, people have the right to their own opinions," Ayloush said. "However, when a large corporation takes their side or caves in to the requests of hate groups, that is of concern."
Ayloush wondered what the public reaction would have been if a company had yanked its ads from certain now-classic programs.
"Imagine if Lowe's had decided many years ago to pull out its ads from shows like 'The Cosby Show' or 'The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air' or 'Seinfeld' because they were deemed to portray African Americans and Jews as normal people," he said. "The American public would have been outraged by any corporation who did that."