Oklahoma representative’s Facebook post about Islam creates controversy

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OKLAHOMA - The term “Islamophobia” is coming to the forefront after the deadly nightclub shooting in Orlando.

That shooter claimed to be Muslim.

Today, nonprofits from around the state gathered at the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum for a workshop on Islamophobia and how to combat it in their work and in the community.

Adam Soltani, the executive director of the Oklahoma Council on American Islamic Relations, said a recent Facebook post by State Representative Pat Ownbey could be an example of Islamophobia.

Ownbey shared an article on Sunday on his Facebook page that said “Islam is not a religion, subject to First Amendment protections.”

The article goes on to say “The first step in coming to grips with the Islamic threat is to officially declassify Islam as a protected religion in the hearts and minds of western populations.”

“I think it’s very important for him to understand that sharing an article which is biased in nature against the Muslim community can be very offensive and hurtful,” Soltani said.

Soltani said he plans to reach out to Ownbey and invite him to visit the Islamic center in his hometown of Ardmore and to meet some of his Muslim constituents.

“If he’s a representative in our state, he should represent all people,” Soltani said.

The workshop on Wednesday was sponsored by the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits.

Daniel Billingsley, vice president of External Affairs at the Center, said the discussion was spurred on by the Orlando shooting and the subsequent increase in Islamophobic chatter on social media.

“It creates, first of all, a sense of confusion with people that eventually it’s fear, it’s misunderstanding and that causes phobia which eventually, which we’ve seen in recent events, can lead to violence,” Billingsley said.

Ownbey sent NewsChannel 4 this statement in response to his post:

"Throughout my legislative career, I have made a habit of posting commentaries on Facebook. Some of those I agree with, and some I don't. I have done so on a regular basis to get feedback on a wide range of topics. I posted the article in question on Sunday expecting this issue to be the same. It was, until a young reporter called on Monday saying he saw there was a lot of negative feedback on the post, accusing me of deleting it. In both cases, he was incorrect, and I told him so. It was obvious he was fishing for something, and I was irritated with his accusations. So, when he asked me if I believed that the Muslim religion should be protected by the constitution, I simply told him I'd have to study the subject."

To be clear, in case after case, the U.S. Supreme Court has kept the definition of religion extremely broad. It is obvious that this religion is and should be Constitutionally protected."