Protesters descended on a Lowe's store in one of the country's largest Arab-American communities on Saturday, calling for a boycott after the home improvement chain pulled its ads from a reality television show about five Muslim families living in Michigan.
About 100 people gathered outside the store in Allen Park, a Detroit suburb adjacent to the city where "All-American Muslim" is filmed. Lowe's said this week that the TLC show had become a "lightning rod" for complaints, following an email campaign by a conservative Christian group.
Protesters including Christian clergy and lawmakers called for unity and held signs that read "Boycott Bigotry" and chanted "God Bless America, shame on Lowe's" during the rally, which was organized by a coalition of Christian, Muslim and civil rights groups.
Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Detroit Democrat and the first Muslim woman elected to the Michigan Legislature, said it was "disgusting" for Lowe's to stop supporting a show that reflects America _ the conservatives, liberals and even "the Kim Kardashians" in the Muslim community, she said.
"We're asking the company to change their mind," said protester Ray Holman, a legislative liaison for a United Auto Workers local. He said he was dismayed that the retailer "pulled sponsorship of a positive program."
A local rabbi extended his support to clergy at the protest and local Arab Americans, saying he and other Jews would have been at the protest had it not fallen during the Jewish Sabbath.
"I hope that they would likewise stand up and demonstrate should something outrageous like this take place against another religion," Rabbi Jason Miller said in a statement.
Lowe's spokeswoman Karen Cobb said Saturday that the company respected the protestors' opinion.
"We appreciate and respect everyone's right to express their opinion peacefully," she said.
The show premiered last month and chronicles the lives of families living in and around Dearborn, a suburb of Detroit at the heart of one of the largest Arab-American populations outside the Middle East.
Dearborn is home to the Islamic Center of America, one of the largest mosques in North America. Overall, the Detroit area has about 150,000 Muslims of many different ethnicities and is served by about 40 mosques.
It airs Sundays and ends its first season Jan. 8.
The Florida Family Association has said more than 60 companies it emailed, from Amazon to McDonalds, pulled their ads from the show, but Lowe's is the only major company so far to confirm that it had done so. The group accused the show of being "propaganda that riskily hides the Islamic agenda's clear and present danger to American liberties and traditional values."
The travel planning site Kayak.com also pulled its ads, though its marketing chief said the decision was made because the company was dissatisfied by the show's quality and TLC wasn't upfront with advertisers about how the show would be presented.
Saturday's rally was met by about 20 counter-protesters including John White, who lives in nearby Livonia and called those protesting against Lowe's "terribly misdirected." He acknowledged that he hadn't watched the show, saying he'd seen previews and read about it, but believed the company made a decision based on business, not bigotry.
"Americans are not suspicious ... of baseball-playing, apple-pie eating Muslims," he said. "It's the ones you see on the news."
The manager of the Lowe's store, Doug Casey, said the company wasn't influenced by any outside group or ideology. He said those who criticized Lowe's have a right to their opinion, but that "it's not the opinion of most of the customers I spoke to in the store today."
"I'm deeply sorry if it's caused any divide in our community," he said. "It was never our intention to offend or alienate anyone."
The hubbub didn't keep people from shopping at the store. Keith Rissman, who was buying finishing boards for windows he's installing in his mother's garage, said he supported the company.
"It's a decision they're allowed to make," the 57-year-old said. "If (people) don't want to shop here, they don't have to."
Karen Lundquist, 65, came to the store with her son even though she didn't support Lowe's decision. "It just seems like they yielded to a Christian hate group," she said.