January 9, 2019 — Dallas, Texas
This piece originally appeared in the Dallas Morning News and Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
Religious liberty, a fundamental American value, is at stake in Texas.
It is now in the hands of the Tarrant County Republican Party, which is set to vote on Thursday on whether trauma surgeon and Southlake City Council member Shahid Shafi will be removed from his position as vice chairman of the Tarrant County Republican Party.
A motion to remove Shafi from office was filed by precinct chairwoman Dorrie O’Brien, based solely on the fact that he is Muslim. O’Brien’s motion was bolstered by vague claims of ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and a goal of imposing Sharia Law on Texas.
Members of the Tarrant County GOP should make a clear statement in support of Dr. Shafi by voting to retain him in his duly elected leadership role.
The imposition of a religious test to hold any office contravenes our nation’s values and the principles on which the United States was founded. What should matter is Shafi’s demonstrated commitment to civic leadership and engagement in the political process. By that standard, his appropriateness for the position is undeniable, having served as a Southlake City Council member and several times as a delegate to the state GOP Convention.
If our political parties do not reflect the diversity inherent in our communities, how can they be expected to represent those communities?
Fortunately, the Texas GOP has strong voices that understand what is at stake and which have publicly decried the potential ouster of Dr. Shafi.
Sen. Ted Cruz, in a recent tweet, affirmed that “Discrimination against Dr. Shafi b/c he’s Muslim is wrong. The Constitution prohibits any religious test for public office & the First Amendment protects religious liberty for every faith. The Party of Lincoln should welcome everybody & celebrate Liberty.”
Gov. Greg Abbott, Land Commissioner George P. Bush and former Texas House Speaker Joe Straus are among our state’s Republican leaders who have been outspoken in their support of Shahid Shafi.
The party members who will cast a vote on Thursday will make a statement that will be heard across the Republican Party and across the nation.
Hopefully, they will reject the motion to remove Dr. Shafi, and thereby unequivocally recognize that in a country that values religious freedom, religious minorities will not be excluded from leadership based on how they worship.
The outcome of Thursday’s vote could have ramifications beyond Tarrant County. It may serve as a bellwether as to whether a major political party’s tent can be big enough to include those who may look, sound or worship differently than the white Christian majority.
Of course, the answer to that question affects not only Muslims, but Jews, other religious minorities and all Americans who value diversity and religious liberty.
The eyes of the nation will be watching and awaiting the results.
Joel Schwitzer is director of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) Dallas Region.