A couple of weeks ago I wrote a column talking about the possible impact on Idaho’s image and economic development efforts from the boycott of the Hindu prayer in the Idaho State Senate by Sen. Steve Vick (R-Dalton Garden), Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll (R-Cottonwood) and Sen. Lori Den Hartog (R-Meridian).
I ended with a bit of plea: “We definitely don’t need other officials or prominent Idahoans adding to the narrative of Idaho as a place of intolerance, whether religious or otherwise.”
Well, it looks like some still don’t get the point that attacking a group on the basis of religion is not a smart thing to do.
Two recent, glaring, examples . . .
First, a bit more than a week ago, Betsy Russell of The Spokesman-Review reported that Rep. Vito Barbieri (R-Dalton Gardens) hosted a luncheon a couple weeks ago for more than a dozen Idaho lawmakers on the “True Face of Islam in Idaho”. Of note, all three state senators behind the Hindu kerfuffle attended.
The guest speaker was Shahram Hadian, a former Muslim and current Christian pastor, who heads a group dedicated to exposing “the true goal of Islam and threat of Shari’ah law in America”. He warned that Muslims were spreading throughout the West. “We must curb and limit Islamic immigration and stop the refugee dumps. Spokane is a dumping ground. They’re targeting Boise . . . They’re specifically dumping in conservative areas”.
Russell reported last week that three Idaho interfaith groups consisting of 62 Idaho religious leaders released a statement condemning the presentation as “a glaring example of this kind of ignorance and fear mongering. There are many issues that require our time, money, and attention in this state. Keeping out Muslims is not one of them. As long as any religion or faith group is singled out and discriminated against, every faith is in danger of the same.”
Rep. Barbieri told Russell: It’s [the luncheon] not fear-mongering, it’s fact finding”.
Second, if the Barberi “stop the Muslims” luncheon was not enough, last Thursday’s Idaho Falls Post Register featured on the front page a story by reporter Bryan Clark about a newsletter distributed by the Bonneville County Republican Central Committee which included an article entitled, “Islam in Idaho”. The article was written by Bonneville County GOP executive director Becky Prestwich.
Clark says the article “warns that Muslims are ‘infiltrating’ the state. It claims Muslims have been taught to ‘be ready to rise up and kill’ non-Muslims and to be ‘two-faced’ in order to deceive people into believing their intentions are good.”
Idaho State University Professor, Daniel Hummel who is Muslim, responded to the Post Register saying: “When such extremist views are exposed by those who have a degree of power, it can threaten the safety of Muslim communities”.
One of the key founding concepts of the United States was religious tolerance. It is enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution. It is a bedrock principle. These kinds of displays rub most Idahoans the wrong way, from conservative Mormons in East Idaho to non-religious hipsters in Sun Valley to practicing Catholics, Jews, Baha’is, Protestants, etc. But, imagine the damage that is done when these stories get national or international traction.
Though the recent examples involve Republicans, I don't think that is indicative of the mainstream GOP in Idaho. In fact, Senate Pres. Brent Hill, an active Mormon, oversaw the Hindu pray before the State Senate. I think most Idaho Republicans have shaken their head at these recent examples.
Let me make another plea. If you are a public figure in Idaho of any sort, please lay off picking on any particular religious group. It is bad politics. It generates poor press. And, it hurts our State’s image and potential for economic development. If those are not enough reasons, please understand it is just a plain dumb thing to do. If you get the urge, please . . . don’t.