FORT WORTH, Texas (CN) — North Texas Republicans overwhelmingly voted Thursday night against removing a Pakistani immigrant as Tarrant County vice chairman for his Muslim faith, ending an embarrassing removal effort that drew condemnation from fellow Republicans.
The Tarrant County Republican Party voted against the motion to remove Shahid Shafi, 53, of Southlake, at a closed-door executive committee meeting at Faith Creek Church in Richland Hills. Lasting over three hours, the meeting resulting in a 139-to-49 vote in favor of keeping him. A loud cheer was heard inside of the auditorium where the vote took place immediately before the result was announced to journalists outside.
Tarrant County is the third most-populous county in Texas, with Fort Worth as its county seat. Traditionally viewed as a reliable Republican stronghold, the county was turned purple during last year’s midterm elections as Democrats claimed upset wins in several key races.
Shafi, a trauma surgeon, became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2009 and has served as a city councilman in Southlake since 2014. He was appointed to the party’s county leadership position last year. Precinct chairwoman Dorrie O’Brien, of Arlington, led the effort on social media calling for his removal.
“We don’t think he’s suitable as a practicing Muslim to be vice chair because he’d be the representative for ALL Republicans in Tarrant County, and not ALL Republicans in Tarrant County think Islam is safe or acceptable in the U.S., in Tarrant County, and in the TCGOP, and there are big questions surrounding exactly where Dr. Shafi’s loyalties lie, vis a vis Democrat and Republican policies,” O’Brien posted on Facebook on Dec. 31.
O’Brien declined to comment as she entered the vote. She wore a sweater emblazoned with an American flag design.
Shafi has repeatedly denied claims that he is really a Democrat who supports Sharia over U.S. law and called her attacks on him “un-American.”
“We need to build trust by breaking bread with our neighbors who don’t look like us or talk with an accent,” Shafi said in November. “Regardless of when we arrived on this precious soil, we are all Americans, with equal rights and responsibilities.”
A smiling Shafi showed no anger or bitterness at his fellow Republicans after the vote, saying his faith in the party has been reaffirmed by the result.
“I have no animosity toward my detractors because they hold freedom to express their opinions,” he said. “We now need to work together to heal and grow out our party.”
Shafi said: “We need to learn to trust each other to create a more perfect union” each day. He cited the strength of the county party and said he is proud to be a Republican.
“As an immigrant to this great country, I am honored and privileged to receive the support of my fellow Republicans,” he said. “The beacon of liberty held by the Statue of Liberty is shining brighter today. … We sent the message that all men are created equal with certain inalienable rights.”
The Thursday night vote came after the executive committee punted on the issue at a November meeting, running out of time to vote as members debated in closed session.
Several members of the public eagerly awaited the results of the vote alongside the throng of local and national journalists outside the meeting. A former Bexar County precinct chairman who declined to give his name held a sign stating “Dr. Shafi is an American Conservative” in capital letters.
Former Tarrant County precinct chairwoman Sara Legvold, of Keller, wore a burqa outside the meeting to mockingly oppose Shafi.
Several prominent Texas Republicans have come to Shafi’s defense as the removal efforts remained in the news. Gov. Greg Abbott this week cited the First Amendment and the Texas Constitution’s ban on religious tests in appointing public officials.
"Religious freedom is at the core of who we are as a nation and state," Abbott said. “Attacks on Dr. Shafi because of his faith are contrary to this guiding principle."
Texas Senator Ted Cruz said last month that discriminating against Shafi for his Muslim faith “is wrong.”
“The Constitution prohibits any religious test for public office & the First Amendment protects religious liberty for every faith,” Cruz tweeted. ‘The Party of Lincoln should welcome everybody & celebrate Liberty.”
Land Commissioner George P. Bush urged Tarrant County Republicans to “do the right thing” and support Shafi.
“Religious litmus tests are wrong — whether they occur in my party or whether its Democratic Senators,” Bush tweeted Wednesday. Bush did not explain his remark about Democrats' alleged religious litmus tests.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s editorial board blasted the removal effort in November and called on Republicans to “denounce this toxic spill” in the party.
“The unprovoked attack on Shafi is a stunning affront to an innocent man and a pervasive religion,” the editorial stated. “While the classy Shafi takes a surgical view of it, ascribing his character assassination to a ‘small group of closed-minded people,’ we can only hope he’s right. But the fact that this disgrace has gone on for months — with no swift resolution, no end to the debate Saturday, and no end in sight — indicates the narrow thinking has wider appeal than anyone would care to admit.”
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