GEAAC is back

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Not much time or energy to write, as I'm getting ready for my speech Friday to Saint Augustine Academy's fall banquet.

I did want to note something that has received little notice in the uproar over State Rep. Rex Duncan's decision to refuse a "Centennial Quran." Most of the conversation has been about Duncan's letter of refusal.

Few people seem to have noticed that these Korans were being offered by an official Oklahoma governmental body, the Governor's Ethnic-American Advisory Council (GEAAC), established by executive order of Gov. Brad Henry in 2004. That link will take you an earlier item I wrote about this group.

Officially the GEAAC "is to be made up of from five to 15 representatives of Ethnic Americans of the Middle East/Near East community of the state of Oklahoma." You may be tempted to take that at face value, to assume that GEAAC exists to serve Oklahomans of any religion and any ethnicity with roots in the "Middle East/Near East."

But every public action this council has taken so far has concerned the Islamic faith -- encouraging schools to grant excused absences for Muslim holy days, asking for rebuttal time on OETA to the PBS series "America at a Crossroads" because, according to the council's chairman, "we thought there were a couple of segments that did not put Islam in a positive light," and now passing out Qurans at the state legislature. While those actions would be reasonable for a private organization representing Oklahoma Muslims, they don't suggest a government-sponsored council seeking to represent the diversity of religions in the Middle East.

Here is an excerpt from the minutes of the GEAAC's February 16, 2007, meeting, held in the Jim Thorpe Building, part of the State Capitol complex:

H. PLANNING GOALS AND OBJECTIVES FOR 2007.

Chair Seirafi-Pour opened the floor for submission and discussion of goals and objectives. Dr. Hashmi recommended that education be the council's primary focus and priority for this year. He stated that it would be a great achievement if we (the council) could educate our fellow Oklahomans about the Muslim community as well as the immigrant community. He also stated that the council has a great opportunity through the MCOP [Muslim Community Outreach Program] established by the law enforcement community. This should also be an ongoing process in the future.

In order to reach an even broader audience and increase their visibility, it was decided that the council would try to find an avenue through public television to provide community education and visibility.

Chair Seirafi-Pour recommended that the council implement a program that recognizes the outstanding accomplishments of the women and youth in the Muslim community. Dr. Ahmad volunteered to prepare a draft of criteria to be used in a selection process.

Dr. Rana suggested that the council find some means of reporting council activities back to the community. She added that one possible method could be a newsletter sent electronically to all council members. If some members wished to have hard copies to distribute, they could produce those copies individually as needed. Mr. Farzaneh further suggested that the council submit articles to OPM [Office of Personnel Management for the State of Oklahoma], which Ms. Thornton advised could be published in OPM's "HR Exchange" also available electronically on OPM's website.

Ms. Thornton is Brenda C. Thornton, director of the Office of Personnel Management's Office of Equal Opportunity and Workforce Diversity, a public employee assigned to support the efforts of the GEAAC as part of her taxpayer-funded duties.

Earlier this year, legislators were given centennial commemorative Bibles, but these were donated and distributed by the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, a private, non-governmental organization.

Imagine the fuss if the Bibles were being handed out by the Governor's Teetotal Southern-American Advisory Council, a group ostensibly constituted to represent the concerns of the rich tapestry of Southern-American culture, but in fact inordinately focused on the special concerns of Southern Baptists.

MORE: A number of left-leaning types have accused Rep. Duncan of deliberately publicizing his refusal to accept a Quran. Not so, says Chris Medlock:

I just got off the phone with Rep. Rex Duncan and asked him a very simple question. Did you call a press conference or directly contact the press with regard to this story?

His answer?

"No, Mick Hinton [Tulsa World reporter] called me."

In fact, I learned through my conversation with Rep. Duncan, Mr. Hinton called him within just a few hours after Duncan had sent an e-mail to Ms. Marjaneh Seirafi-Pour stating his desire not to receive the Koran....

Rep. Duncan had placed a phone call to Ms. Seirafi-Pour on Monday to "opt out" of the gift, as requested by Ms. Seirafi-Pour, and to also inquire as to whether or not tax payer dollars were used to purchase the Korans. She assured Duncan that they were bought with private funds, but asked Duncan if he would send her an e-mail stating he didn't want the Koran "for their records."

This he did. Hours later, he was called by Hinton for the story that ran in the next days' newspaper.

So what did the GEAAC hope to accomplish by publicizing Duncan's attempt to refuse their Quran?

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3 Comments

Jeff Shaw Author Profile Page said:

Michael,

I commented a couple of times on the Tulsa Daily Paper articles on this. Which turns out, mirrors your sentiment on this issue, only in a paraphrased form.

This is a quintessential argument for the separation of church and state: so that Americans won't turn on each other. I understand the issue way more complicated than that, The government can't pass out Qurans or Bibles.

Also, I think if you are suggesting an ulterior motive on the part of the GEAAC, I'll join you in your suspicions, but I think someone ought to call on Mr. Henry for a explanation on how this doesn't violate the constitution. In fact, I'm going to write him a letter.

sbtulsa Author Profile Page said:

"but I think someone ought to call on Mr. Henry for a explanation on how this doesn't violate the constitution. In fact, I'm going to write him a letter."

since this seems to be a separation of church and state issue, why not call the ACLU?

maybe their attorneys had the same consitutional law prof that governor poker chip had.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on October 24, 2007 11:58 PM.

Religion News Blog tracks ORU lawsuit story; ministrywatch.org was the previous entry in this blog.

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