May 27, 2010— -- A conservative gadfly and her organization have plastered more than two dozen New York City buses with ads asking: "Leaving Islam? Fatwa on your head? Is your family threatening you?"
The $10,000 ad campaign appears at a time of heightened tension, with the city embroiled in a contentious debate over a proposal to build a mosque and Islamic center near ground zero in lower Manhattan. Muslim leaders call the ads inflammatory.
The bus billboards advise those who want to leave Islam to visit RefugefromIslam.com for guidance.
"We've gotten a number of people who have reached out," Pamela Geller, a right-wing blogger and executive director of a group called Stop the Islamization of America, told ABCNews.com. "It's not a huge number, but then again it's not a huge campaign. I can't reveal anything about them except to say they were looking for help."
Geller said her campaign was partly inspired by the case of Fatimah Rifqa Bary, a Muslim teenager from Ohio who converted to Christianity and fled to Florida in fear of retaliation. "She didn't know where to go," Geller said.
Bary gained national attention last July when she fled to Florida on a bus after her parents learned that she was baptized without their knowledge. Though she insisted that her father and members of his mosque would kill her, three separate investigations turned up no evidence that her life was in danger.
Bary, who now lives with a foster family in Ohio, received bad news recently. She was diagnosed with uterine cancer. She was to have surgery today.
Bus Ads Offer Refuge for Muslim Converts
Geller said there is a need for her campaign.
"There are people that live in real fear and whose lives are threatened," Geller said. "We want to provide an opportunity for them to have a resource to go to. It's a religious freedom issue."
Some religious leaders took issue with the bus ads.
"We believe that this [ad campaign] is in very poor taste and does not help bring people together," said Daisy Khan, executive director of the American Society for Muslim Advancement, one of the groups promoting a controversial plan to build a mosque near ground zero in lower Manhattan. "It is an attempt to polarize people."
Samir Selmanovich, a Christian minister who converted from Islam and runs an interfaith group called Faith House Manhattan, said there were already plenty of resources for Muslims looking to convert.
"You can provide refuge in a much more sophisticated way," he said. "Putting it so publicly escalates other issues. It's more of a provocation. This is not the way to do it."
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority reviewed the ads and found that they fell within its guidelines. The agency has not received complaints since the ads went up May 14, agency spokesman Kevin Ortiz said.
Geller, one of the leading opponents of plans to build a mosque near the site of the former World Trade Center, said she raised the money for the ads from readers of her conservative blog, Atlas Shrugs, and other websites. Similar ads have appeared in public transit systems in Miami and San Francisco, she said.
"It's a religious freedom campaign," she said. "How is it anti Islam? It's for people that are struggling, that are leaving Islam. I have no problem with Muslims."