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AUSTIN, Texas - What was supposed to be a rally at the Texas Capitol on Thursday promoting tolerance and inclusion for Muslims and their supporters was largely derailed by sustained screams from protesters loudly advocating for something quite apart from peace and love.
Texas Muslim Capitol Day was organized by Texas chapters of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, whose members intended to raise awareness on issues, advocate on a number of bills and celebrate their right as Americans — and in one speaker’s case an eighth-generation Texan — to be part of the political process.
But not one of the 10 or so speakers at the hourlong event managed to finish a sentence without being heckled by a group of maybe two dozen that fanned out about 20 paces from the south steps of the statehouse. A patriotic song by the Houston Koran Academy didn’t even silence the screaming.
CAIR-TX spokeswoman Ruth Nasrullah had barely begun the program when a woman briefly commandeered the podium and attempted to claim the Capitol in the name of Jesus Christ. The woman, a native Michigander who now goes “wherever the Lord calls,” later said she was seized by “righteous anger” and felt she’d accomplished what she attempted to do Thursday morning.
“I want to inspire Americans against this and proclaim for Jesus Christ and not their god, Allah,” Christine Weick said.
Although the Texas House is in recess until next week, at least one elected official didn’t exactly put a welcome mat outside her office door for the Muslim activists. State Rep. Molly White, R-Belton, posted on Facebook that she had left an Israeli flag in her office “with instructions to staff to ask representative from the Muslim community to renounce Islamic terrorist groups and publicly renounce allegiance to America and our laws.”
That post prompted CAIR’s national government affairs manager to email General Counsel and House Ethics Advisor Frank Battle asking whether “White had violated any House rules in creating such an internal office policy that is selectively being enforced to discriminate against certain religious minorities trying to meet with her or her staff?”
Many a speaker at the podium said both their and the protesters’ presence was a celebration of a robust First Amendment. One, Wardah Khalid, who writes the Young American Muslim blog for the Houston Chronicle and for the Huffington Post, said it was time for Muslims to embrace their rights and craft their own narrative of who they are.
“We as Muslim Americans will no longer sit idle as others seek to define us and our beautiful faith,” Khalid said.
A similar event at the Capitol during the last session reportedly drew zero protesters, but Rev. Ronnie Lister of Houston, who spoke in favor of the CAIR activists, said he fully expected the sound and fury he heard and saw Tuesday.
Lister’s prepared remarks — delivered in an oratorical cadence very much reminiscent of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. — argued that despite attendees’ differences, the event was a gathering of equals.
“It is very important that we concentrate on what Allah has sent us here to do today,” Lister said. “It is very important to understand that the world is changing. And when things change, people get scared and they get crazy. God is in you and me and even the hecklers over there. God is in everything but evil. Allah akbar!”
Later, Lister said people of differing faiths would do well to read the holy books of other religions as a way to promote tolerance and inclusion, but he didn’t see that happening anytime soon.
“This is an indication of the expansion of the freedom of America,” Lister said. “America is a melting pot and Muslims are Americans who pay their taxes and must be included.”
“This is nothing,” Lister said of the protesters. “Their anger and hate will not allow them to use their minds.”