OKLAHOMA CITY - A state Muslim civil liberties group, governor and state Republican party are responding after a Facebook post by a Republican state representative equated the removal of confederate monuments after the Civil War to removing mosques after the 9-11 terror attacks.
State Rep. John Bennett, R-Salisaw, posted on his Facebook timeline early Thursday morning "If we're removing confederate monuments after the Civil War, I think we should also be removing mosques after 9/11." It has since been deleted.
"We unequivocally oppose any suggestion that mosques need to be removed from America as such statements go against the ideals of religious freedom as enshrined in the First Amendment of our Constitution," said Council on American-Islamic Relations Oklahoma Government Affairs Director Anna Facci in a statement.
Bennett's post is seemingly in response to Confederate monuments being taken down in places across the country in the wake of the Charlottesville, Va. white nationalist rally that spiraled out of control last Saturday.
One counterprotester, Heather Heyer, 32, was killed after James Alex Fields, Jr., 20, allegedly drove his car into a group of counterprosters; 19 others were injured.
Since, questions surrounding the nation's history with slavery, the Civil War and its place in present day has become a flashpoint.
CAIR-Oklahoma, the state's Muslim civil rights and advocacy group, said it was disappointed to see the "bigoted" and "anti-Muslim" post from the Republican elected in 2011 that has come under fire in the past for his statements about Muslims.
"We have repeatedly tried to have an open and honest conversation with Rep. Bennett about the contributions and benefits Muslims bring to our state, but his doors have been shut on our community time and time again," Facci said.
NewsChannel 4 wanted to hear from Rep. Bennet, in his own words, about why he made the post and later removed it. After requesting to speak with the legislator, but not hearing back, NewsChannel 4 reporter Ian Smith went to the state capitol to inquire further. His legislative assistant telling our photographer to stay in the hall as the door was closed and the representative was called on the phone.
"I know, I know," the aide can be heard saying to Bennett on the phone. "They don't want to hear the truth."
Not much later, a Sergeant at Arms came to escort Smith and photojournalist Kevin Josefy from the office and to the elevator.
"These two gentlemen were just leaving, would you please take them out," said the aide.
"Oh, really?" the Sergeant at Arms replied.
"Yes, they're leaving."
"Racism, bigotry and hatred have no place in our society," said Gov. Mary Fallin in a statement to Bennett's post. "At a time when our country is very divided politically, we must do our best to show respect for others, including their backgrounds and beliefs."
The Oklahoma Republican Party stands against all racism and bigotry," said Pam Pollard, the Oklahoma Republican Party chairwoman. "We hope all Oklahomans and Americans see that the violence and hatred we have seen in the last week only divide us as a nation. The world is watching."
Bennett has come under fire for controversial comments made about Muslims before. In March, on Muslim day at the capitol, students who stopped by Bennett's office were told to fill out a questionnaire before he would meet with them, asking things like, "Do you beat your wife."
"We've been taught by faith to repel hate with love. This is not the first time he's made an outrageous statement," said Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City Imam Imad Enchassi.
"It is very irrational," Enchassi said of Bennett's calling for mosques to be removed. "A monument is a monument; it is an idol. (A mosque) is a worship place."
"An outrageous statement like that just makes us stronger, makes us want to outreach to those people who actually have ill feelings towards us."