Muslim group: Tennessee lawmaker's Facebook post was racist

AP News
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Posted: Feb 25, 2015 5:51 PM

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The nation's largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization on Wednesday urged Tennessee Republican leaders to repudiate what they consider a racist Facebook post by a GOP state lawmaker.

Republican Rep. Sheila Butt's Facebook post said, "It is time for a Council on Christian Relations and an NAAWP in this Country."

She was commenting on a Jan. 26 open letter from the Council on American-Islamic Relations urging potential Republican presidential candidates to reject Islamophobia and reach out to American Muslim voters.

Butt, who is House GOP floor leader, said she did not recall what day she put the remark on Facebook. It has since been deleted.

CAIR said the name "National Association for the Advancement of White People (NAAWP)" has been used by several white supremacist organizations, and that the "NAAWP" is an apparently racist twist to the name of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or NAACP.

Butt, who is white, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that "NAAWP" stands for the "National Association of Advancement for Western Peoples," and said her post has been misinterpreted.

"I have no idea why that's been taken so out of context," said Butt, R-Columbia. "Somebody is trying to make something out of that."

She issued a public statement later Wednesday defending her post.

"It saddens me that we have come to a place in our society where every comment by a conservative is automatically scrutinized as being racist," the statement said. "Instead of realizing my post was actually about making sure that every race, religion, gender, and culture has a seat at the table, liberal groups have once again incorrectly and falsely jumped the gun."

CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper said Butt's response is not acceptable.

"I can appreciate the fact that she's trying to wiggle out from under this controversy, but that explanation just isn't plausible," he said.

The chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party and the state's Republican House speaker did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the post.

However, Democratic Rep. Johnnie Turner of Memphis said she's surprised that Butt would risk making such a comment, regardless of her intentions.

"To think that someone would make that kind of a statement in a leadership position, that's making decisions that impact the lives of all of us, is a concern," said Turner, a member of the Legislative Black Caucus who also serves on the Board of Directors of the NAACP Tennessee State Conference.

This isn't the first time a Republican Tennessee lawmaker has been criticized for making remarks considered racist, or offensive.

About three years ago, then Sen. Jim Summerville came under fire for sending an email to the chairwoman of the Tennessee Black Caucus saying: "I don't give a rat's ass what the black caucus thinks."

Summerville apologized, but GOP leaders stripped him of his chairmanship in a legislative subcommittee. He was defeated in last year's election primary.