As a proposal to oust a Tarrant County Republican Party leader because he’s Muslim looms Thursday night, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott stressed that “the promise of freedom of religion is guaranteed” by the U.S. Constitution.
Abbott’s comments come as Tarrant Republican precinct chairmen are scheduled to vote on whether to keep Shahid Shafi, a Muslim, as one of the party’s vice chairmen.
“The promise of freedom of religion is guaranteed by the first amendment in the Constitution; and Article 1, Section 4 of the Texas Constitution states that no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust in this state,” the governor said in a statement.
“Religious freedom is at the core of who we are as a nation and state, and attacks on Dr. Shafi because of his faith are contrary to this guiding principle.”
Abbott is the latest state official to weigh in on the proposal that appears to be dividing the Tarrant County Republican Party.
At issue is an effort that began months ago when a group of members began pushing to remove Shafi from the post of vice chairman.
Precinct Chairwoman Dorrie O’Brien asked for Shafi’s appointment to be reconsidered because he’s Muslim — and the issue ramped up and expanded after the Nov. 6 election, which saw Tarrant County turn blue in the U.S. Senate race.
She and others behind the move to oust Shafi, a surgeon and Southlake City Council member, say this is not about religion but whether Shafi is loyal to Islam and Islamic law or connected “to Islamic terror groups.”
Tarrant Republicans discussed behind closed doors whether to remove Shafi from his position during a Nov. 10 meeting. They didn’t vote that day, instead shifting the vote to Thursday’s meeting of the Tarrant County GOP executive committee, which is made up of precinct chairmen.
As talk swirls within the party about compromises, rules changes and secret versus public votes, some in the party wonder if the vote might again be delayed.
The Star-Telegram has been covering the effort to remove Shafi from GOP party leadership since August. In recent months, the Tarrant County 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.
Shortly after Tarrant County Republican Party Chairman Darl Easton named Shafi vice chairman in July, messages against him began appearing 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.”
Internal GOP emails delivered anonymously to the Star-Telegram in November showed that the effort to remove Shafi expanded. Others targeted included Chairman Easton; a precinct chairman and area leader, Kelly Canon; and a precinct chairwoman who is married to a Muslim, Lisa Grimaldi Abdulkareem.
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.
And the State Republican Executive Committee in Austin passed a resolution stressing that members across the state have the “freedom to practice all faiths.”
Some members have said they fear the proposal to remove Shafi from vice chairman is hurting the party’s ability to raise money.
They say some potential donors have not yet given to the main Tarrant County GOP fundraiser event, the Lincoln Day Dinner, because they first are watching to see how the vote goes.
Wilder, a regular contributor to the party and Lincoln Dinner, said he doesn’t know if fundraising concerns will be as big a problem as some expect.
“I have no intention of cutting my support, no matter what the vote is (Thursday),” he said. “Also, I do know major contributors and have not heard anything at all about cutting back.”
No speaker has been announced for this year’s Feb. 16 dinner at the downtown Omni Fort Worth Hotel.
“Our side will run into strong headwinds no matter what happens on Thursday night,” O’Brien posted on Facebook this week. “You’ve all been steadfast in whatever your own reasons are for rescinding the doctor’s appointment.
“You’ve been beaten over the head (if even peripherally) by fellow PCs, the news, and the RPT about what a lousy person you are for doing your civic duty ... and even for just thinking you have a right to hold an opinion opposite the mainstream,” she wrote. “They’re demeaning you by saying you’re a bigot. You’re a hater. I know you’re not. You know you’re not. You can’t affect an outcome of what the chair started with his ill-advised appointment if you’re not there.”