OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — An advocacy group and Oklahoma lawmakers welcomed a group of Muslims at the state Capitol Friday while pro- and anti-Muslim groups bickered outside.
The Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations held its second Muslim Day at the Capitol, where an estimated 200 Muslims discussed religious policy, law enforcement issues and political advocacy with at least eight lawmakers.
"We wanted to bring people to the Capitol here today — show them this is your state Capitol building; this is where government happens," said Anna Facci, operations and events coordinator for CAIR.
The group paused for prayer throughout the day and heard messages from Jewish, Christian and Muslim faith leaders who were critical of a small but vocal anti-Muslim display that had greeted participants as they entered the building.
Outside the Capitol, protesters held signs disparaging Islam and shouted down its supporters. The Interfaith Alliance of Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Conference of Churches drew more than 60 people to welcome Muslims as they passed the protesters.
William Tabbernee, executive director for the Oklahoma Conference of Churches, looked on and shook his head. It made him sad, he said, to see the protesters tell Muslims they weren't welcome to participate in public discourse.
"(Muslims) have the right, as everybody else has the right, to exercise their political and civic duties, and to learn about what the Legislature is doing," Tabbernee said.
Several of the anti-Islam protesters were street preachers who came from out of state, said Jim Gilles, a protester from Evansville, Indiana. A group of them planned to hold anti-Muslim signs outside the Donald Trump presidential rally later that day in Oklahoma City, he said.
"It's sad to see Americans supporting that which would destroy their lives," Gilles said of Islam as interfaith supporters sang "God Bless America" a few feet away.
After a call to prayer, Imam John Ederer of the Islamic Society of Tulsa defended Islam from attacks that he said mistakenly conflate the Quran's meaning as widely practiced with radical interpretations like that of the Islamic State.
"We were intended to be different and that will enable us to learn from each other," Ederer said. "The more humble we are in recognizing God's beauty in each other, the more godly we become."