Shahid Shafi, a Muslim, remains a vice chairman of the Tarrant County Republican Party.
Tarrant County Republicans voted 139-49 late Thursday night — after more than 2 1/2 hours of private discussion among precinct chairs — to keep Shafi, 54, in the leadership post.
Loud cheers were heard from where precinct chairs were gathered behind closed doors at the Faith Creek Church in Richland Hills shortly before party officials announced the vote to the media.
“This 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 Party Platform and the Constitutions of the United States and Texas, which strictly prohibit religious and racial discrimination of any kind,” Tarrant County Republican Party Chair Darl Easton said in a written statement.
“While (Thursday’s) vote brings an end to this unfortunate episode, it also demonstrates we are a party that respects the right of those who disagree on an issue to have a seat at the table and their voices heard,” according to the statement. “Religious liberty won tonight and while that makes a great day for the Republican Party of Tarrant County, that victory also serves notice that we have much work to do unifying our party.”
Shafi said the vote affirmed his belief in Tarrant County Republicans.
“As we struggled through the last few months, it would have been easy for me to quit. But I stayed on to fight,” he said. “We were fighting for religious freedom ... and today we have come out victorious.”
He said Thursday’s vote took a stand “against bigotry of all kinds.”
“Our union is a little more perfect today ... and it’s time to put (party) divisions to rest,” he added.
At least one precinct chair — Arlington Republican Dale Attebery, who was involved in the effort to oust Shafi — reportedly tossed his ID at the lectern after the vote. Easton said he accepted that as Attebery’s resignation.
Thursday’s meeting was much different than the last Tarrant GOP executive committee meeting in November, where members discussed the proposal to remove Shafi but never took a vote.
This time, paper covered the windows into the sanctuary, where Tarrant Republicans gathered for the meeting, and law enforcers stood guard in front of the doors.
The issue of religious freedom this time drew national attention and about two dozen reporters and TV crews to cover the vote.
This issue arose about six months ago, after Easton appointed Shafi — a surgeon and Southlake councilman — to the vice chair post and fellow Republicans approved his proposal.
Opposition from a small group of local Republicans began emerging on social media.
“Dr. Shafi is a practicing, Mosque-attending muslim who claims not to follow sharia law or know what it is,” Republican Sara Legvold wrote on the Protect Texas Facebook page in calling for Shafi’s removal. “As a practicing muslim that is an overt falsehood. Sharia law is anathema to our Constitution because Islam recognizes no other law but shariah.
“As the most conservative county in the nation, this is a demoralizing blow to the conservative rank and file of the Republican Party across the nation and in Texas.”
Then Precinct Chair Dorrie O’Brien, from Grand Prairie, asked for Shafi’s appointment to be reconsidered because he’s Muslim.
She and others have long said this is not about religion but whether Shafi is loyal to Islam and Islamic law or connected to Islamic terror groups.
O’Brien’s motion was delayed until after the Nov. 6 election, which saw Tarrant County turn blue in the U.S. Senate race.
Hours of discussion behind closed doors during a November meeting led to no resolution and pushed the issue to Thursday night’s meeting.
Republican Party of Texas Chairman James Dickey said he stands by the Tarrant County vote Thursday night.
“Our platform clearly and unequivocally advocates religious freedom and non discrimination,” he said in a statement. “We have always and will continue to stand for religious freedom and for welcoming all who share our values into our party.”
A number of people who were not precinct chairs crowded into the church’s lobby Thursday night.
Among them, two men carrying signs stating that they are against hate and for American rights.
“It’s time for the Republican Party to defeat hate,” said Shayan Elahi, a Dallas attorney who carried a sign that said #No Hate in DFW. “Only they can clean their own house.”
A man from Bexar County held a sign that read “Dr. Shafi is an American conservative.” He declined to give his name but said he traveled to Thursday night’s meeting to show support for Shafi.
Others who showed up included a half dozen Muslim-American women who also wanted to support Shafi.
“We stand for justice,” Shazia Alhassan, of Murphy, said. “We felt that what was happening was not right.“
Not everyone agreed.
Legvold, who showed up to Thursday night’s meeting in a black burqa, was among those in the lobby waiting to hear how the vote went. She told some that she dressed up to show how this country has been impacted by Islam.
The Star-Telegram has been reporting about the effort to remove Shafi from GOP party leadership since August. In recent months, the local party has drawn national attention as media outlets across the country joined in coverage of the issue.
Shafi, born in India and raised in Pakistan, traveled to the United States to study medicine. He became a naturalized citizen in 2009 and, since then, has been involved with the Republican Party.
Internal GOP emails delivered anonymously to the Star-Telegram last year showed that the effort to remove Shafi expanded. Others targeted included Easton; a precinct chair and area leader Kelly Canon; and a precinct chair who is married to a Muslim, Lisa Grimaldi Abdulkareem.
Many have cautioned the party — at this crucial time, when the local GOP suffered unexpected losses during the midterm election and could see more in 2020 — about voting to remove Shafi.
Some top Texas Republicans — including U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, Land Commissioner George P. Bush and former House Speaker Joe Straus — condemned efforts to remove Shafi, as have Tarrant County Republicans including County Judge Glen Whitley, Sheriff Bill Waybourn and District Clerk Tom Wilder.
The State Republican Executive Committee in Austin passed a resolution stressing that members across the state have the “freedom to practice all faiths.” And Texas Gov. Greg Abbott this week noted that “the promise of freedom of religion is guaranteed” by the U.S. Constitution.
Many Republicans weighed in on the issue on social media Thursday, some cheering on O’Brien, saying “Hang in there Dorrie. You are right.”
Others cautioned that voting against Shafi could cause a number of precinct chairs to resign, prompt donors to walk away from the party and lead to the SREC denying Tarrant County delegates to the 2020 state convention.
Many entering the meeting Thursday night squeezed through a lobby crowded with media, shaking their heads and muttering that “this is crazy.”
Inside, precinct chairs were given a written statement from Dickey.
“In Tarrant County, a few individuals have sought to remove Dr. Shahid Shafi from his position as vice chair of the county party because of his religion — because he is a Muslim,” the statement read. “That is not our party.
“This is the Republican Party of Texas. We stand behind those who wish to join us in supporting the founding principles of our nation and the right for everyone to pursue their own version of the American Dream,” according to the statement. “All are welcome in the Republican Party of Texas — all, that is, except those who refuse to join in our mission to fight equally for the protection of, and opportunity for, those of all races, religions and creeds.”
Also handed out in executive session was a cartoon of a red-faced Elmer Fudd, labeled as Darl Easton.
“How dare you oppose my appointments!!!!!!!!!!!!” the cartoon stated. “(you wascal-wie bigots...)“
There has been much talk about the issue on social media this week.
O’Brien encouraged precinct chairs who want Shafi out to attend Thursday night’s meeting.
“Our side will run into strong headwinds no matter what happens on Thursday night,” she posted on Facebook this week. “You’ve been beaten over the head ... by fellow PCs, the news, and the RPT about what a lousy person you are for doing your civic duty.
“They’re demeaning you by saying you’re a bigot. You’re a hater. I know you’re not. You know you’re not,” she wrote. “You can’t affect an outcome of what the chair started with his ill-advised appointment if you’re not there.”
Others cautioned that voting against Shafi could cause a number of precinct chairs to resign and donors to walk away from the party.
“We must do the right thing and reject a religious litmus test for a party leader position,” Wilder posted on Facebook. “Most of us know the hidden agenda of this dissident group is to discredit the party Chair and Vice Chairman and seize those positions for themselves no matter the cost to the party and its candidates.”