The executive director of the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) has accused a state lawmaker of refusing to meet with Muslim constituents unless they first answer a questionnaire described as anti-Muslim.

Adam Soltani published a video on 2 March 2017 displaying the document, which he said was handed out by Republican Rep. John Bennett’s office in Oklahoma City. Soltani was joined by two people in the video who said they also received the questionnaire.

“His secretary stated that we could make an appointment with him once we answered all of those questions,” an unidentified woman says, recounting her experience.

The encounter supposedly took place during Muslim Day at the Capitol, which was organized by CAIR to encourage Muslim members to meet with elected officials. In the video, Soltani called for Rep. Bennett to be held accountable for the questionnaire:

John Bennett has no right to do this to Muslims or to any group of people to promote Islamophobia is one thing. But to refuse to meet with citizens of the state of Oklahoma unless they answer hateful, bigoted questions is something entirely different.

A day after posting the video, Soltani told us that Bennett refused an invitation to meet with his group in 2016. He also said that CAIR would consult with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) while continuing to challenge what he described as Bennett’s bigotry:

I’m sure he didn’t have a religious questionnaire for any other group of people. It’s discriminatory and it takes us back to a time in our country when people were treated differently because of who they were.

Bennett later released a statement saying that, rather than refusing to meet with Soltani and CAIR, he was out of his office at the time they received the questionnaire. The statement read in part:

That’s why I left the questionarre (sic) with instructions to my assistant; if they wanted to visit with me about CAIR or Mulim (sic) Day to answer them, set an appointment with me, bring their Quran, Sharia Law Book and Muhammed Sunna back with them when they come and we would sit down and discuss the facts in the questionarre. (sic)

*CAIR knows that the legislature typically isn’t in session after noon on Thursdays (this early in session), and Most Reps and Senators who Do Not live close are gone by noon. CAIR conveniently schedules their Muslim Day on Thursdays around noon every year. I don’t think this is coincidence.

In a phone interview on 7 March 2017, Soltani responded to Bennett’s accusation, noting that after being held on Fridays in both 2015 and 2016, the event was moved to a Thursday this year. He said:

We were advised by legislators that if we wanted to move into advocacy we should hold it Monday through Thursday. We didn’t really know until almost the day of [the event] that they leave at noon, especially if they’re not from the Oklahoma City metro area. So his accusation of us intentionally doing that is completely off.

In the video, Soltani stated he was informed that the questionnaire was created by the advocacy group ACT for America and included questions such as:

  • Mohammed was a killer of pagans, Christians and Jews that did not agree with him. Do you agree with this example?
  • Sharia Law says that it must rule over the kafirs, the non-Muslims. Do you agree with this?
  • I have heard that, according to accepted Islamic sources, Mohammed, at the age of 49, married a 6-year-old girl, and that he had sex with her when he was 52 and she was only 9 years old. Is that really true?

A spokesperson for ACT for America — which has been rated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an “extremist” anti-Islam group — sent an email statement to us saying that Bennett’s assistant, a former chapter leader for the group, “wrote and provided the document” to Bennett. However, the spokesperson said, ACT for America did not approve the use of its logo on the document. According to the statement:

ACT for America makes clear in all chapter leader-related documents that ACT for America retains the right to review and approve all uses of its name: 14 or more days in advance for written material, and 7 or more days in advance for electronic communications.

These requirements were not followed by the Oklahoma chapter leader and, again, ACT for America did not have any knowledge of, nor did we give consent for, this material to be distributed. This Chapter Leader is no longer affiliated with ACT for America, and his chapter has been disbanded.

In 2014, Bennett described the Islamic religion as “a cancer in our nation that needs to be cut out” during a gathering with other Republicans. In October 2016, Soltani and his group criticized Bennett, accusing him of “shamefully wasting taxpayer money to promote his own biased agenda.”

Sources:

Sherman, Bill.   “Rep. John Bennett Stands Behind ‘Yhreat of Islam’ Statements at Sallisaw Republican Meeting.”
    Tulsa World.   16 September 2014.

Council on American-Islamic Relations.   “CAIR-OK Responds to Rep. Bennett’s Islamophobic Hearing.”
    www.commondreams.org.   25 October 2016.

Franklin, Dallas. “Rep. John Bennett has lengthy response to backlash over ‘hateful’ questionnaire.” KFOR-TV. 6 March 2017.