Note: A vote was taken Thursday night. Read about it here: Tarrant Republicans stand ‘against bigotry of all kinds’ as Muslim keeps party post
Tarrant County Republicans picked up Thursday night where they left off in November — discussing whether to keep Shahid Shafi, a Muslim, as one of the party’s vice chairmen.
Precinct chairmen in the party went behind closed doors at the Faith Creek Church in Richland Hills at the beginning of their 6:30 p.m. meeting, planning to pick up the debate where they left off last year.
The difference this time: This issue has drawn national attention and more than a dozen reporters and TV crews were in the lobby, outside the sanctuary, where the meeting was being conducted.
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Paper covered the windows into the sanctuary, where Tarrant Republicans gathered, and law enforcers stood guard in front of the doors.
“I think this is all really stupid,” said Jennifer Hall, a former Tarrant County Republican Party Chair who supports Shafi.
Two men carried signs into the church lobby stressing 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.“
This issue arose last year shortly after Shafi — a surgeon and Southlake councilman — was appointed to the post by County Chairman Darl Easton.
Opposition from a small group of local Republicans began making its way to 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.”
Before long, Dorrie O’Brien, a precinct chairwoman from Grand Prairie, asked for the appointment to be reconsidered.
That consideration was delayed until after the general election. Then hours of discussion behind closed doors during a November meeting led to no resolution, pushing the issue to Thursday night’s meeting.
Those asking for his removal have long said this is not about religion but whether Shafi is loyal to Islam and Islamic law or connected to Islamic terror groups.
Shafi, Easton and O’Brien declined to comment as they walked into the meeting.
The Star-Telegram has been covering 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 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.
Local Republican officials including District Clerk Tom Wilder and County Clerk Mary Louise Garcia were among those attending the meeting.
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 noted that “the promise of freedom of religion is guaranteed” by the U.S. Constitution.
Many local Republicans weighed in on the issue through social media this week.
O’Brien encouraged precinct chairs who want to vote out Shafi 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.”
Some cheered 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 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.”