NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Legislative Black Caucus on Thursday called on Republican Rep. Sheila Butt to apologize for what they said was a racist Facebook post, and said she should be removed from her leadership position.
In a speech on the House floor, Butt defended her comments, saying the First Amendment allows people to speak their minds. GOP leaders later indicated their support for her.
Butt's post said, "It is time for a Council on Christian Relations and an NAAWP in this Country."
It was a comment 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.
Critics say "NAAWP" has been used by white supremacist organizations and stands for the "National Association for the Advancement of White People."
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 had been misinterpreted. It has since been deleted.
On the House floor Thursday, Butt said she "never intended to offend anyone," then cited her right under the "First Amendment to speak our minds."
"I'll stand for that amendment for myself, for my constituents, and for every one of you every single day," said Butt, who received applause from some members following her statements. "The post was meant to be inclusive of every gender, culture and religion. I'm disappointed if it was misunderstood by many of you, or some of you."
Since Butt's Facebook post, a book she wrote has surfaced. In "Everyday Princess: Daughter of the King," published in 2008, Butt writes that there are consequences to interracial dating.
"I have seen instances when a young lady started dating someone of another race, and there were those of her own race who were not interested in dating her after that," Butt said. "God accepts all people no matter who they are. But every young lady will have to decide if interracial dating is wise, helpful or expedient for her."
Butt refused to speak at length with reporters after Thursday's session. When the AP asked about her book and if she's against interracial dating, Butt responded, "that is definitely not true."
Black Caucus Chairwoman Brenda Gilmore said Butt's comments, particularly the Facebook post, divide the Legislature and the caucus said Butt should no longer be GOP floor leader.
"When we witness a wrong that is occurring and we stand by and do nothing, and say nothing, then I say that we're just as guilty as the person who has afflicted the victim," said Gilmore, a Democrat.
House Speaker Beth Harwell didn't give any indication she plans to reprimand Butt.
"This was a legislator acting on her own," said Harwell, a Republican. "This was not a caucus incident, nor was it a leadership incident. I think she was misunderstood, and I'm going to leave it at that."
GOP Caucus Chairman Glen Casada issued a statement supporting Butt.
"I call on my colleagues in the General Assembly to join me in defending western values and culture against radical Islam," Casada said.