SHAFAQNA (International Shia News Association)- They came out by the hundreds from Dallas, San Antonio and Houston, mostly women and children, girls with silver-bowed shoes and pink owl backpacks. They sang the national anthem and prayed.
But less than 20 feet from where the group of Texas Muslims gathered on the steps of the state Capitol in Austin, a small handful of protesters told them exactly how they felt about their visit.
“We don’t want you here!” shouted one. Others yelled, “Go home,” “ISIS will gladly take you” and “remember 9/11.”
“You don’t have to dress that way! Take it off!” came from a woman holding an Israeli flag. “Islam is the war on women!”
Earlier in the morning, Rep. Molly White, R-Belton, commented on the gathering.
“I did leave an Israeli flag on the reception desk in my office with instructions to staff to ask representatives from the Muslim community to renounce Islamic terrorist groups and publicly announce allegiance to America and our laws. We will see how long they stay in my office,” she wrote on Facebook.
Thursday marked the seventh annual Texas Muslim Capitol Day in Austin, when hundreds of adherents of Islam visit the Capitol to meet with lawmakers and learn about the democratic process. This year, however, is the first that’s been marked by virulent anti-Islam protests, said Ruth Nasrullah, a prominent Muslim blogger from Houston who also hosted the event.
Christine Weick, who said she was originally from Michigan but now is “on the road,” at one point stormed the succession of speakers, grabbing the microphone and yelling, “Islam will not dominate the United States, and by the grace of God, it will not dominate Texas.”
She was carted back to her spot with the other 12 to 15 protesters holding vigil behind a wall of law enforcement officers. “Muhammad is dead!” she and other chanted, referring to the Muslim prophet.
Sister Ruth’s voice quivered as she introduced speaker after speaker, who came to the microphone to defend the Muslim and interfaith groups’ right to engage with their lawmakers.
“It’s the First Amendment that allow us to be on the Capitol steps and them to be across the street,” said Annette Lamoreaux, a Vice President on the Board of Directors of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas. “Democracy is messy.”
Neither the House nor Senate was in session Thursday, and no lawmakers were on the Capitol steps. But at least seven staffers showed up “in solidarity” with Texas Muslims, including individuals from the offices of Sens. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso, Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, and Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston.
“People of all faiths deserve to be treated with respect and dignity in our state’s Capitol while they exercise their rights in a peaceful manner,” Ellis said in a statement to the Chronicle. “We felt the need to stand in solidarity with Texas Muslims in the face of virulent hate speech and bigotry.”
Security was tight at the Capitol. At least 15 armed Department of Public Safety officers stood between the protesters and the assembled group of at least 150 Muslims and their supporters. No one was arrested or hurt at the gathering.
Mustafaa Carroll, the executive director of the Houston chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said Wednesday he was afraid for the group’s safety.
“We’ve had some threats,…We asked for heightened security tomorrow,” said Carroll, who confirmed organizers contacted the FBI, Austin Police Department and DPS prior to the event. One email, he said, claimed, “We are going to f—up your world.”
CAIR, Texas Impact and the other groups that showed up Thursday support legislation to require police to wear body cameras and resolutions supporting the Texas Dream Act as it currently stands.They also oppose a so-called “anti-Sharia law” bill, which bars the enforcement of “foreign laws…in a proceeding involving marriage, a suit for dissolution of a marriage, or a suit affecting the parent-child relationship in this state.”
“We feel it’s a red herring and it’s just meant to mar the community,” Carroll said of House Bill 562 by Rep. Jeff Leach, R- Plano.
Leach, however, welcomed the group to the Capitol on Thursday when tweeted, “All Texans are welcome at YOUR Capitol – and all Texans are always welcome in my office. Come one. Come all!”
On Thursday, Council on American-Islamic Relations Government Affairs Manager Robert McCaw sent a noteto House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, inquiring as to whether Rep. White broke any House rules with her comments Thursday.
“Has Rep. White 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?” McCaw asked.
“Are House members prohibited from making constituents take oaths before meeting with their elected representatives or house staff? Or, are you aware of any other ethical breaches that may have occurred because of these statements?”
Straus responded later Thursday, saying “The Texas Capitol belongs to all the people of this state, and legislators have a responsibility to treat all visitors just as we expect to be treated — with dignity and respect. Anything else reflects poorly on the entire body and distracts from the very important work in front of us.”