Residents and city officials in Plano, Texas, are calling out the anti-Muslim rhetoric of one of Plano’s council members.
According to news reports, Councilman Tom Harrison, 73, last week shared on his personal Facebook page an anti-Muslim meme that read, “Share if you think Trump should ban Islam in American schools.” The meme, originally posted by a Facebook page that supports President Donald Trump, cycles through several images of young schoolchildren wearing hijabs and praying.
This is the anti-Muslim meme shared by Plano Councilman Tom Harrison. (screenshot from Religion News Service)
Consider this the trickle-down effect of Trump’s own anti-Muslim rhetoric. If the president of the United States advances xenophobic views about Muslims, immigrants, people of color and other minorities, it should come as no surprise that other elected officials would feel emboldened to do the same. (Just last week a federal appeals court that struck down Trump’s Muslim ban noted his animus toward Muslims.)
Fortunately, the public outcry was swift in Plano. Council members called a special meeting on Sunday to censure Harrison. Plano Mayor Harry LaRosiliere said it was the only official action council could take.
“Mr. Harrison’s conduct is unbefitting a council member to serve our diverse community. I find this Facebook post abhorrent and believe this is a stain on our city and does not represent who we are,” LaRosiliere said in a statement to The Washington Post.
Plano Mayor Pro Tem Rick Grady also was upset by Harrison’s rhetoric.
“I have fought my entire life for this hatred to go away, for this stereotype to go away, for bigotry to go away, and it seems to continue,” Grady said at Sunday’s meeting, according to The Post. “This kind of intolerant behavior, this insensitivity for people, needs to cease.”
City officials encouraged Harrison to resign but said they don’t have the authority to forcibly remove him from office. Some residents expressed an interest in gathering signatures for a recall election.
Harrison has said he won’t resign. A day after posting the anti-Islam meme (which he has since deleted), he posted a statement on his Facebook page which tried to excuse his actions. He made the incredulous claim that his intent in sharing the meme was to raise awareness of religious diversity.
“My intent on inputting this on my personal Facebook page was to emphasize that Christianity is not the only religion being targeted for exclusion in our public school. It was not meant as a personal attack against the Islamic faith. As a Christian, it is my belief that all should be free to worship as they choose, but we live in a time where any practice of religious expression in public schools is rarely tolerated. My hope is that due to the rightful negative response to my post, that it will spark a renewed discussion about all religions and their place in our public schools.”
It strains credibility that Harrison’s true intent with the hateful post was to encourage Muslim children to freely express their faith in public schools – especially since the meme promotes the exact opposite idea. News reports have cited other racist and xenophobic posts Harrison has shared on social media. As Harrison repeatedly mentions Christianity in his lame apology, I suspect he’s perfectly fine with Christian students expressing their faith, but would condemn anyone of a minority faith or of no faith expressing those views in the public square.
Religious freedom is about fairness. It means no one should be discriminated against or made to feel like a second-class citizen because of his or her faith or beliefs.
The one thing his “apology” got right was the renewed discussion about religion and diversity in Plano. More than 500 people reportedly crammed into Plano council chambers on Sunday, many demanding Harrison’s resignation.
Mariam Khan, a Muslim mother of four, held a sign that said, “No Hate! Makes Plano Great!,” according to Religion News Service (RNS). Her 14-year-old daughter Iman Siddiqui’s sign declared, “Stop Pretending Your Racism Is Patriotism.”
“The growing hate in our community is a concern. Plano is a welcoming place, but after the recent election … we always face racism because of the headscarf,” Khan said, referring to the election of Trump.
“So this is a time for everybody who wants to live in peace and make America great again … to stop the racism,” added Khan, who immigrated to the U.S. from Pakistan in 2000.
“Six years ago or 10 years ago, I would have given him the benefit of the doubt,” said Plano resident Gans Subramanian, a Hindu immigrant from India who attended the meeting, according to RNS. “But in the current political context, we are all very, very careful about things. … If you have a councilman make an incorrect statement like that, it breaks the trust in the community.”
Religious freedom is about fairness. It means no one should be discriminated against or made to feel like a second-class citizen because of his or her faith or beliefs. Elected officials like Harrison and Trump should be ensuring that all Americans, regardless of their beliefs, are treated with fairness, equality and respect.