by Lani Habrock, Government Affairs DirectorOct 3, 2019

There is a sign off the highway in North Oklahoma City. It is red and blue with “Islam” written in large white print on the red side, and the prophets listed in chronological order on the blue side. Along the bottom, a resource number and website to learn more. I first noticed this sign about a month ago. I cringed. Not because Islam is anathema to me, but because I expected it to cause controversy and stir up hate.

After a few weeks passed and nothing happened I breathed a little easier. “Oklahoma is changing,” I thought to myself every time I passed it.

Unfortunately, this calm was short-lived.

Congressional candidate, Michael Ballard, posted a crooked picture of this sign on Facebook that looked like it had been taken from the driver’s seat of a car, with the caption “This is beyond disgusting. It’s located in OKC.” I knew this individual personally. We had run for office together in 2014. He was running for State Senate, I was running for a House seat. We became friends through the campaigns. Although we had differing political views, I could tell he was a good person, just trying to serve his community.

“I know you. You’re better than this…” I commented to him under the “disgusting” thread. He sent me a text message asserting that he wasn’t saying Islam is disgusting, just that he was “disgusted by Jesus Christ being placed last or equal to anyone else.” “What are your views on Muslim Americans then? And would you be willing to visit a mosque in your district and meet some of your potential Muslim voters?” I responded, with an offer to set up such a meeting. I wanted to give him the opportunity to show that this post isn’t who he is. I wanted him to have the courage and humility to be better.

This is a Call for Unity

As of the writing of this, I have not received a response, nor has any clarification or apology been posted to Facebook. His original post has nearly 900 comments and almost 500 shares, but he is no longer commenting on it himself. In fact, he seems to have moved on and is talking about other matters now- back to posting trivial news articles and meeting minutes from civic engagements. They sink like stones in the wake of hate he whipped up.

It is hurtful when bigotry is spewed, hurtful when it is politically motivated, when it rides the back of religion and wears the face of godliness, hurtful still more when it is spoken by friends.

2020 is an opportunity to show the world and ourselves what we value most. To have a voice in the kind of America we envision and to define our own American dream.

Ballard’s inflammatory post, however intentional or not, added to the swell of intolerance and discrimination. This is a call for unity. A call for courage. A request for the recognition of our invariable humanity. A simple acknowledgment that regardless the borders surrounding us when we are born, regardless of the way we choose to worship, people are people. And the only thing “disgusting” about that is the way we choose to divide ourselves.