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Despite heated debate, council passes resolution to support HB 562

Photo: Feeling House Bill 562 slights certain Americans by calling their faiths and patriotism into question, Imam Omar Suleiman speaks to the Irving City Council urging them to vote against the proposed ordinance. /Photo by John Starkey

The city of Irving passed a highly controversial resolution on Thursday in support of House Bill 562, a bill that relates to the application of foreign law in the State of Texas. Hundreds of Irving citizens of different ethnicities and religious backgrounds gathered at the city council meeting to share support and opposition of the proposed resolution brought forward by Mayor Beth Van Duyne, Councilman Brad LaMorgese and Councilman Oscar Ward.

“This bill does not mention, at all, Muslim, Sharia Law, Islam, even religion,” Mayor Van Duyne said. “It specifically talks about foreign laws not taking precedence over U.S. laws and those of the State of Texas. This has absolutely nothing to do with preventing any tribunal. What it is saying is: if you have a tribunal and if you have a court system, you are going to be upholding the fundamental rights of U.S. citizens and Texas citizens.”

A few Irving residents signed up to speak at the city council meeting including iconic Imam Omar Suleiman.

“As you can see, though I might not look like it, I was born and raised in this country,” Suleiman said. “I was born in New Orleans; I’m from New Orleans. I’m as American as any of you who are up here today. I’m also an Imam [and] a scholar in Islamic studies. I’ve taught comparative religion and interfaith theology.

“I moved to Irving a couple of years ago, and ironically, the first night I was here in Irving was our Ramadan Iftar where Miss Mayor spoke and said that Irving has the most diverse zip code in America. That was one of my proudest moments as an Irving citizen.

“When laws like this target our communities and stoke irrational fears, we have to worry about going out in public and being told ‘go back home.’ If you don’t believe us, then just a few weeks ago, we had a convention where there were a thousand protestors yelled at us as we walked with our spouses and our children, who were born in America and pledged allegiance to the flag, were told ‘go back home.’”

Irving resident, Jacqualea Cooley, spoke in favor of Irving’s resolution to support HB 562.

“Our Constitution is over 227 years old, and it needs our support. It needs your support. It is the fabric of our country. Anything less than this is unacceptable,” Cooley said. “It is good and healthy to renew that support from time to time, and I believe tonight is one of those times. I don’t think we’re voting against anyone; I think we’re voting to support the Constitution, which is for everybody.”

“Irving has an opportunity to shine and stand with our great State in affirming our belief in this great document. We must not run from opportunities to express our confidence in [our constitution]. It guarantees freedom for all individuals without regard for nationality, race, creed, color or religious beliefs. It will be a shame if we miss this opportunity to shine by failing to support House Bill 562. I have been proud of the positive press that our city and Mayor have received simply by stating our support of the Constitution of the United States of America,” Cooley said.

Many of the council members weighed in on the resolution, some citing that HB 562 should not be a municipal issue and that bringing the resolution forward only divided the community further.

“I’m going to come at this with a logic that comes out of my religious precepts,” said Councilman John Danish speaking to the predominantly Muslim audience. “I know I sit in a room with multiple religious precepts, so I hope you will give me that leeway. When Jesus Christ was asked, ‘what is the most important commandment?’ his answer was to love your neighbor. This is the most important precept – love thy neighbor.”

“Even though Representative Rinaldi is correct that there is nothing in this bill that discriminates against my Islamic fellow citizens, it is clear that the way this has been developed you feel threatened by it. You my neighbor, you my fellow American feel threatened by it, and that’s not right. That’s why I will not support this,” Danish said.

Mayor Van Duyne discussed her support of HB 562.

“This is a country that allows you freedom of religion, freedom to practice religion and freedom to change laws if you don’t agree with them by a democracy. What it does not allow is the ability to just create laws and to bring foreign laws over,” Van Duyne said.

“The gentleman earlier mentioned that we live in a wonderful melting pot. What makes this an amazing place to live is that we can have that diversity. We can enjoy that diversity. Why? Because we all follow the same law. This law is based on the U.S. Constitution. I would expect everyone in this room to be supportive of that,” she said.

After heated deliberation between council members, the resolution passed 5-4: Van Duyne, LaMorgese, Ferris, Ward and Spink voted for the resolution, and Meagher, Webb, Putnam and Danish voted in opposition.