A two-page questionnaire handed to Muslim students who wanted to meet with a state representative has law professors wondering if the lawmaker followed the Constitution.
Rep. John Bennett (R-Sallisaw) left the now-controversial questionnaire behind for people who visited his office on Muslim Day, which occurred last week at the state capitol.
Bennett told NewsChannel 4 in a statement Sunday the questionnaire “was left for them to provoke their thought. If they weren’t aware of what Islam stands for, they should know and research then make a better informed decision on what they want to support or not. If they are aware of what Islam, Sharia, CAIR, Jihadist stand for and still support it, then they are part of the problem.”
Muslims who attended called the questions “hateful.”
“It violates our traditions,” said Rick Tepker, who teaches Constitutional law at the University of Oklahoma. “It violates our ideals. We cherish the ideal of civic equality, and I think legislators who are sworn to uphold both the Constitution and our ideals ought to be more respectful of our history.”
Article I Section 2 of the state Constitution declares:
Perfect toleration of religious sentiment shall be secured, and no inhabitant of the State shall ever be molested in person or property on account of his or her mode of religious worship; and no religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights.
Tepker said Bennett violated that section of the Constitution by putting a pre-requisite on an appointment with a public official.
The professor cited long-standing American history, pointing to John Quincy Adams’ objection to a so-called “gag rule,” under which members of Congress refused to meet with abolitionists.
“People have a right to petition for redress of grievances,” Tepker said. “It doesn’t mean Mr. Bennett has to do anything [after meeting with them], it doesn’t mean Mr. Bennett has to agree but all are entitled to civic equality. That is the American ideal. And, I think Mr. Bennett doesn’t understand that.”
Bennett refused an on-camera interview Wednesday but responded to inquiries via email.
“The questionnaire was left for them to provoke their thought,” he wrote. “They need to research for themselves. If they weren’t aware of what Islam stands for, they should know and research then make a better informed decision on what they want to support or not.”
Bennett asserts all questions in the questionnaire are factual according to Islamic Law.
The Republican told NewsChannel 4 the Council on American-Islamic Relations – which he said is a terrorist group – was already aware he had left for the day.
“The questionnaire had nothing to do with religion,” he wrote. “CAIR is hiding behind the 1st amendment protections of the U.S. Constitution, because they can trick people/media who don’t research the facts and divert the attention to that instead of the real issue, and that is Sharia Law should never be allowed in Oklahoma or the U.S. and CAIR supports Sharia. That is the real story not a questionnaire I handed out in my office.”
CAIR has repeatedly stated Sharia are essential laws serving as a guide to all aspects of a Muslim’s life not exclusively punishment.
On its website, CAIR Oklahoma writes Sharia aims to preserve life, learning, family, property and honor.
Many of the punishments have been taken out of context, repealed or require an incredibly high level of evidence, according to the site.
Tepker doesn’t think Bennett’s actions will result in a lawsuit, because he said courts are reluctant to take cases like these.
But, still, the professor said, Bennett is crossing a closely-held American line.
“Our country has followed the principle that a person’s civil rights should not be enlarged or diminished because of their religious thought,” he said. “By categorically refusing to talk to Muslims unless they fill out a questionnaire filled with his own vision of the Muslim religion, he’s violating that expectation, that tradition. And, I think that’s wrong.”