Texan Republicans vote to keep Muslim county party leader

By Jonathan Allen

By Jonathan Allen

(Reuters) - Republicans in and around Forth Worth, Texas, rejected a controversial call to oust a vice chairman of the county party because he is a Muslim.

In a landslide vote of support Thursday night for its vice chair, Shahid Shafi, a practicing Muslim, the Tarrant County Republican Party's executive committee voted 139 to 49 to keep him, party officials said.

"Today, my faith in my party and our country has been reaffirmed," Shafi wrote on his Facebook page.

"My fellow Republicans have demonstrated that we remain the party of Lincoln and Reagan, which is open to all Americans, regardless of their religion, caste, creed, color, ethnicity or country of origin."

Jeremy Bradford, the county party's executive director, said: "The call to keep him was overwhelming."

A dissenter on the committee, Dorrie O'Brien, had filed the motion to remove Shafi.

She was not immediately available for comment to Reuters by telephone and she did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.

O'Brien, a Tarrant County precinct chairwoman, has previously posted lengthy comments on social media complaining about Shafi because he is a Muslim, a religion she regards as dangerous, and possibly a stealth Democrat.

She says Islam is incompatible with the U.S. Constitution, while her critics note that the Constitution forbids religious discrimination.

"We don't think he's suitable as a practicing Muslim to be vice chair because he'd be the representative for ALL Republicans in Tarrant County, and not ALL Republicans in Tarrant County think Islam is safe or acceptable in the U.S.," O'Brien wrote in a post in December.


'HATEFUL'

But on her Facebook page late Thursday, supporters of Shafi excoriated O'Brien.

"I hope there is a hell, because all of you hateful 'Christians' will go there," one Facebook user wrote.

Bradford said earlier: "At the end of the day, it's a fear that they have, in my opinion unfounded, of Muslims," referring to O'Brien and what he described as a small group of her supporters.

Tarrant County Republican Party Chairman Darl Easton said in a statement after the vote: "The vote reaffirms the commitment by a majority of Tarrant County Republicans to our core values and moral compass, a demonstration of our allegiance to the Texas Republican Platform and the Constitutions of the United States and Texas, which strictly prohibit religious and racial discrimination of any kind."

Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Senator Ted Cruz were among elected Republicans who have condemned O'Brien's effort.

Shafi grew up in his native Pakistan before moving to the United States in 1990 to train as a surgeon. In 2009, he became a U.S. citizen and later was elected to the Southlake city council.

In a November open letter, Shafi called O'Brien's religious discrimination "un-American" and denied her accusations that he was secretly a Democrat or sought to supplant U.S. law with Islamic law.

"We need to build trust by breaking bread with our neighbors who don't look like us or talk with an accent," he wrote. "Regardless of when we arrived on this precious soil, we are all Americans, with equal rights and responsibilities."



(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York, and additional reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Susan Thomas, Robert Birsel)