HOUSTON – With anti-Muslim sentiment on the rise, the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas has created a policy to defend against anti-Muslim discrimination.
Anna Núñez, a spokeswoman for the ACLU of Texas, told The Record that the organization is trying to educate Texans in the wake of a fire that damaged a mosque in Victoria.
“We have an anti-Muslim discrimination Know Your Rights information on our website,” Núñez said.
The site offers information on the rights to wear a hijab and rights at an airport or border. It also outlines rights regarding religious freedoms in school and the workplace as well as during encounters with law enforcement.
However, the information is not a substitute for legal advice and Núñez said anyone who believes their rights have been violated should contact an attorney.
The January fire at the Victoria Islamic Center caused $500,000 in damage and has been ruled an arson by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
According to investigators, the fire was “incendiary, or intentionally set” and “the evidence does not indicate the fire was a biased crime.”
Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas, said it was fortunate that nobody was injured or killed in the blaze.
“We don’t yet know who committed this crime or why, but whoever did it, or was inspired by it, or approved of it even privately, should know that every mosque wall stained with hateful graffiti will be repainted,” Burke said in a statement. “Every shattered window will be replaced. And every mosque burnt to the ground, including this one, will be rebuilt.”
Burke added that the outpouring of support in the wake of the fire has been inspiring. An online fundraising effort and individual donations have totaled more than $1 million to help the mosque rebuild.
In keeping with a peaceful approach, Burke said the center, which was founded by Dr. Shahid Hashmi, Has not offered up rage or blame. Instead, its members have offered forgiveness.
“Victoria’s churches and synagogues have opened their doors so their Muslim neighbors have a place to pray,” Burke added in the statement. “At a time when anti-Muslim rhetoric is growing louder and more irresponsible by the day, it’s a welcome reminder that most of us believe that everyone has the right to worship as they please, free from fear and fire.”
Burke noted that the ACLU of Texas has a record of standing behind the Muslim community in recent months. The organization has opposed a letter sent by State Rep. Kyle Biedermann, R-Fredericksburg, to Muslim leaders in Texas demanding they “renounce, repudiate, and oppose” radical interpretations of Islam with an open letter of its own.
In a full-page ad in the San Antonio Express-News, the ACLU of Texas condemned Biedermann’s Muslim loyalty oath as an affront to the First Amendment principles of free speech, free exercise of religion and free association.
“Rep. Biedermann’s loyalty oath is an insult to the First Amendment, but if he wants to champion women’s rights, minority rights, LGBT rights and secular governance – all of which are celebrated in his letter – I’m all for it, and I expect that to be reflected in his voting record this session,” Burke said in a statement. “Were he to follow through and oppose SB 6, ‘religious refusal’ bills and the diversion of taxpayer money to religious education, he’d find a stout ally in the ACLU.”