IRVING (CBSDFW.COM) – Imam Omar Suleman of Irving says he is still puzzled and angry after receiving a letter and poll from a Republican state lawmaker.
“My first reaction was, is this for real or is this some sort of spoof,” asks Suleman, the Resident Scholar at the Valley Ranch Islamic Center.
The letter from Kyle Biedermann of Fredericksburg asks him to answer questions about his religious beliefs, including whether he believes Sharia or Islamic Law supersedes the Constitution, and whether the Muslim Brotherhood should be designated as a foreign terrorist organization.
“An implied foreignness, an implied disloyalty even though we are proud Americans and proud Muslims, and we’ve never seen a conflict between those two identities,” says Suleman.
Regarding Sharia, Suleman says, “It is part of our religion and Sharia to abide by the laws of the land as long as you have the freedom to practice, so it is because of Sharia I abide by the Constitution.”
On the envelope addressed to Suleman, Biedermann asks for a reply ASAP.
Suleman says he and many other Muslim leaders refused to participate in the poll.
The ACLU of Texas says it condemns what it calls “Biedermann’s Muslim Loyalty Oath” and says it’s “An affront to the First Amendment principles of free speech, free exercise of religion and free association.”
Joe Bachmeier, a spokesman for Biedermann, says the goal was to have the poll returned in time for a hearing the lawmaker was holding at the Capitol Thursday morning called Defending Against Radical Islamic Terrorism in Texas.
Bachmeier says Biedermann used private funds to pay for the poll, and that when he took office this month, he assembled the Law Enforcement & Homeland Security Advisory Council.
In a new report, unrelated to Biedermann’s hearing, the Texas Department of Public Safety finds “The current terrorism threat to Texas is elevated in light of the relative frequency of recent attacks and thwarted plots in Europe and in the U.S., organized, supported, or inspired by ISIS and other foreign terrorist organizations.”
The report also says, “We are especially concerned about the potential for terrorist infiltration across the U.S.-Mexico border, particularly as foreign terrorist fighters depart Syria and Iraq and enter global migration flows.”
On Wednesday, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that called for the immediate construction of a border wall. Parts of the southern border already have a wall and a fence.
The President also called for the hiring of 5,000 new border patrol agents.
On Thursday, Governor Greg Abbott announced he spoke with the new U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly to discuss border security in Texas.
The Governor’s office says Secretary Kelly briefed Governor Abbott on his agency’s efforts to “rapidly deploy thousands of new agents to assist with the border security effort.”
President Trump is also reportedly preparing to issue an executive order that would impose a temporary ban on admitting refugees and other immigrants from what he calls “terror prone” countries.
They include Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen.
The President says it’s not a total ban on Muslims from entering the U.S., but calls it extreme vetting.
Suleman criticized the pending executive order saying, “It’s a continuation of his (President Trump’s) dehumanizing rhetoric, whether it’s toward immigrants or refugees.”
Ken Emanuelson of the Dallas Tea Party, who supported Trump, says the federal government needs to do a more comprehensive job of looking into the refugees’ backgrounds. “You need to make sure that these folks are legitimately entitled to refugee status. Are these folks legitimate refugees? Are these people who we can bring into this country and not create any problems for ourselves or our families?”
The DFW Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations says, “This is unjust and we will fight back.”
At Representative Biedermann’s hearing Thursday, Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne was among those who testified.
She told the hearing, “I want to be real clear about why I’m here today. I’m not an expert in radical Islam. I am not anti-Muslim. I was asked to come speak today to talk about my experience as Mayor with an Islamic Tribunal that was created in our community.”
Van Duyne spoke about a CBS 11 story from two years ago that reported on what was believed to be the first Islamic Tribunal to settle disputes outside the local or federal courts.
The Mayor made national headlines two years ago when she announced on her Facebook page that they were looking into the situation.
She raised questions then and continues to do so about how the Tribunal works, and whether the participants who help settle cases have any legal qualifications to do so.
“As a Mayor, I took an oath that I will protect and defend the rights of my constituents, that are provided by the state laws of Texas and the Constitution. If there is a question in my mind that is not happening in my city, it is my obligation to take action. The action I took was talking to our state representatives to make sure that it was following laws and that if it wasn’t, we could clarify it with some type of legislation.”
The spokesman for Biedermann says he will work with other lawmakers to file any necessary bills.
The hearing Thursday was unaffiliated with any official state legislative committee.
On Tuesday, hundreds of Muslims are expected to take part in Texas Muslim Capitol Day, a day previously scheduled in which people come from all over the state to meet with lawmakers and see how state government works.
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