- Associated Press - Thursday, September 11, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - A GOP state legislator and the chairman of the Oklahoma Republican Party are standing behind anti-Muslim remarks the lawmaker posted to his Facebook page, and both said Thursday they have no plans to apologize.

Leaders with several civil rights organizations have called for state Rep. John Bennett, R-Sallisaw, to apologize after he posted a comment to his Facebook page urging people, especially Christians, to “be wary of the individuals who claim to be Muslim-American.” Bennett also said in his post that the Islamic holy book, the Quran, calls for the killing of non-Muslims.

Adam Soltani, the executive director of the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, called the comments “inappropriate and offensive,” and requested an apology.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma Republican Party Chairman Dave Weston stood behind Bennett’s comments and said they were accurate.

“Everything John Bennett said is legitimate and there is no need to for him to apologize. One look around the world today, and 1,400 years of history, and you can see what he says is accurate,” Weston told The Associated Press. “The thing I want to emphasize is that we have no quarrel with Oklahoma Muslims, but at the same point in time you have to acknowledge there are problems across the globe and throughout history with people who practice Islam.”

Spokesmen for Republican Oklahoma House Speaker Jeff Hickman and Gov. Mary Fallin did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Soltani said over the last several years in Oklahoma there has been an “organized effort by individuals within the Republican Party to demonize and attack and marginalize Muslims in the state.”

Bennett, a Marine Corps veteran who served three combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, helped create a “counter-terrorism” legislative caucus whose members have focused on the activities of CAIR, a Muslim civil rights group. The caucus hosted a law enforcement seminar at the state Capitol last year, and organizers tried to ban Soltani from attending.

Anthony Douglas, the head of the Oklahoma NAACP, called for Bennett to resign or be removed from office.

“We have to hold our leaders accountable. He cannot effectively represent his district. He has to go,” Douglas said.

Bennett said he has received hundreds of messages supporting his position and that he won’t step down or apologize.

“I work for my constituents, and they determine if I get hired or fired,” Bennett said. “I’m definitely not going to apologize.”

Andrew Stodghill, a Muslim-American from Oklahoma City, said he found Bennett’s comments offensive and bizarre.

“It’s sad to see that someone in public office would use his bully pulpit to denigrate people like that,” Stodghill said. “It makes me embarrassed sometimes to be an Oklahoman.”


Follow Sean Murphy at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy

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