It’s getting tougher to be a Republican in Tennessee while also fully accepting the practice of Islam.
An incumbent in the U.S. House found herself on the defensive after being called soft on Sharia law, and the governor has been forced to explain why he hired a Muslim as part of a growing public push to raise suspicions of Islam.
“By stopping this now, we’re going to save ourselves a lot of difficulty in the future,” says Lee Douglas, a dentist in Brentwood who sees what he calls an “infiltration” of Islam in federal and state government.
Douglas points to the appointment of Samar Ali to work in Tennessee’s economic development office. He and others drafted a resolution criticizing the governor and making a case that Islam is bent on world domination.
A version of the document has been signed by a growing list of county-level Republican executive committees, including the state’s wealthiest and arguably most influential GOP stronghold of Williamson County.
However, the GOP county chairmen have been reluctant to talk. One agreed to be interviewed for this story and then backed out.
In response to the resolutions, Republican Governor Bill Haslam has stopped short of condemning the attacks aimed at Islam. Instead, he defends his Muslim staffer’s credentials and points out Samar Ali grew up in Waverly.
“She was most likely to succeed in her class, member of the 4-H. Her dad is a colonel in the Tennessee National Guard,” Haslam told reporters. “So this is somebody who is very Tennessee.”
‘They Intend to Take Us Over’
The fact that Ali is a fellow Tennessean doesn’t put Brentwood dentist Lee Douglas at ease.
“I don’t want anybody to persecute any religion including Islam,” Douglas says. “But we have a duty as Americans to understand that they intend to take us over and compel us to become Islamic.”
Asked how he squares First Amendment protection of religion and his views, Douglas says Islam is more than a religion and it’s getting special treatment.
“Our government is showing a deference and is accommodating one single religion – Islam, Sharia.”
Douglas uses the term Sharia, laws outlined in Muslim holy books, almost interchangeably with the religion itself.
He says the government should be showing deference to the religion on which the country was founded – Christianity. Instead, Douglas sees the U.S. Justice Department going to bat for Muslims, who make up one percent of the state and the U.S. as a whole.
Federal courts intervened in a lawsuit that attempted to keep the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro from opening.
“If we don’t protect the individuals down in Rutherford County and their right to worship, then that just diminishes all of our rights,” said U.S. Attorney Jerry Martin.
The local mosque debate has uncovered suspicions across the political spectrum – from pulpit pastors to wealthy Republican donors like Andy Miller.
Changing the Conversation
However, the Nashville health care investor tries to delineate between Islam and Sharia.
“I am not anti-Muslim at all. I don’t hate anybody,” he says. “But I do have issues with Sharia law. When you look at Sharia Law, it’s so antithetical to the things that we hold dear as Americans.”
This year Miller pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into Super PACs supporting a candidate who shares his views. Lou Ann Zelenik has made Islam a campaign issue in both of her failed but fiery bids for office.
“I stood up when my opponents were silent against the political agenda of radical Islam,” she says in a web video.
While Zelenik lost to Rep. Diane Black again last week, Black felt pressure to show she – too – is concerned about Sharia.
“I understand the devastation that Sharia law could mean in our country,” she says. “I’m sponsor of a bill that will once again say that the United States Constitution is our law and that it is the supreme law.”
The federal legislation has 50 co-sponsors. At the state level, more than 20 legislatures have considered their own bills banning courts from recognizing Sharia law.
Legal scholars call the effort a waste of time given the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, which makes it the “supreme law of the land.” But to the anti-Sharia crowd, the legislative action is another way to get their fears taken seriously.