A city councilman in Plano, Texas is at the center of controversy for sharing a video on Facebook that has been called anti-Islam. The video showed pictures of students wearing hijabs in classrooms with a comment by Councilman Tom Harrison: “Share if you think Trump should ban Islam in American schools.”
The city council, which does not have the power to oust Harrison (that would take a recall petition and a public referendum), voted 7-1 to censure him.
Harrison, for his part, said he will not resign but did apologize for “the unintentional hurt I caused by reposting something on my personal Facebook page that wrongfully implied I am anti-Muslim.”
At the city council meeting called to discuss the post, Harrison said, “I want to assure the citizens of Plano I am not xenophobic, I am not a bigot, I am not a racist.”
Yet, in a bizarre twist of logic used to explain the post, Harrison also said in a statement, “My intent on inputting this on my personal Facebook page was to emphasize that Christianity is not the only religion being targeted for exclusion in our public school. It was not meant as a personal attack against the Islamic faith.”
Let’s explore the facts before we try to dissect what that last statement means.
Harrison’s post should be judged on the words he used to describe the images he chose to post. Banning Islam in America’s schools plain and simple means denying a person the right to freely practice their religion in a way guaranteed by our constitution.
One only needs to envision simple substitutions to see if this argument is legitimate: Imagine the students in the video as Christians wearing crosses in schools or as Jewish boys wearing skullcaps. These displays of religion in a public school are not fundamentally different than a Muslim girl wearing a hijab — and are certainly protected by the constitution.
Harrison says he wanted to “emphasize that Christianity is not the only religion being targeted for exclusion in our public school.” One assumes that Harrison is upset about recent rulings regarding the separation of church and state which have kept Christianity out of the public sphere when the courts ruled that certain activities or displays were contrary to the constitution.
Yet, Harrison made no mention of the controversy about how Islam is being taught in America’s public schools. Rather he stated his support for banning Islam itself from public schools and used Muslim girls wearing hijabs as an example.
Plain and simple, if a post on social media is so nuanced that it needs an explanation – especially one that is a big stretch from the post’s original intent – it has no business on social media. While it is true the post was made on Harrison’s “private Facebook page” and a person has a right to his or her opinion, social media — by definition — is not a private affair, especially when it is used as platform to promote public policy.
As an elected official, Harrison has a responsibility to uphold his country’s constitution and promote policies that do so. He should resign.