In August 1958, Clara Luper and 13 other members of the NAACP Youth Council walked into Katz Drug Store in Oklahoma City and ordered hamburgers and sodas. Not only were their requests refused, but because it was an all-white establishment, they were also asked to leave. Two days later, Katz Drug Store ended its segregation policy.
It is this history of segregation in Oklahoma, and the United States, that came to mind when we first learned that a gun range operating in Oktaha had posted a sign banning Muslims from the business. This was and remains a clear violation of the Oklahoma’s nondiscrimination law as well as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which ended segregation in public places.
For that reason, when we discovered that the Save Yourself Survival Gear and Gun Range had denied a Muslim access to their shooting range, based solely on the fact that he identified himself as a Muslim, the Oklahoma Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit.
We were not about to allow bigoted business policies to take us back in history. Countless heroes in our nation’s history sacrificed their lives to protect the freedoms that we all cherish, and it is our responsibility to honor their legacy by fighting to protect these freedoms.
We live in a time of heightened Islamophobia, when anti-Muslim rhetoric inflames emotions. Whether it be former state Rep. John Bennett, who said that Islam is “a cancer in our nation that needs to be cut out,” or policies that ban Muslims from a public place of business because “they pose a safety risk,” words and actions have a lasting negative impact on the Oklahoma Muslim community.
The sad truth is that Muslims live in fear of their individual and collective safety as a result of the growing atmosphere of Islamophobia. Every time there is an increase in anti-Muslim rhetoric that echoes throughout society, there is an equivalent increase in hate crimes toward Muslims. Islamophobic rhetoric does not exist in a vacuum: It has a ripple effect and long-lasting pain that is inflicted on human life.
Muslims in Oklahoma have to live with the thought that when we say goodbye to our family in the morning, it may be the last time. Muslims in Oklahoma have to worry about how our children will perceive their own faith when so often they are targets of anti-Muslim bullying and harassment. Muslims in Oklahoma, after what recently happened in New Zealand, have to live with the reality that one day someone may walk into their place of worship and murder us for practicing our faith.
It is our hope that almost three years after first filing our lawsuit — with their removal of the sign banning Muslims from the Oktaha facility and the promise not to violate federal and state civil rights law — we have done our part to protect the civil rights of all Americans in upholding the ideals of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and honoring the legacy of our civil rights heroes past and present.
Adam Soltani is executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Oklahoma Chapter.