Stopped from entering a terrorism seminar, he sits in the House gallery.
OKLAHOMA CITY -— The leader of an Islamic group attended an anti-terrorism seminar at the state Capitol on Friday despite organizers’ attempts to keep him out.
Adam Soltani, executive director of the Oklahoma Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and others were able to watch the seminar from the House gallery, despite initially being told they could not attend the event, which was held in the chamber.
Soltani tried on Friday to register and pay to attend the seminar, sponsored by the Oklahoma Counterterrorism Caucus, but was told the seminar was full.
Organizers initially put out a House news release saying the seminar was for law enforcement agents and was open to the public but later said the part regarding the public was in error.
Earlier in the week, Soltani criticized the seminar, saying some of the speakers were anti-Muslim. He also questioned why police participants were able to get Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training continuing education credit for attending.
Sheryl Siddiqui of Tulsa, a spokeswoman for the Islamic Council of Oklahoma, said the seminar’s speakers have a reputation for making misleading and untrue statements about Islam and Muslims.
Oklahoma Muslims need Oklahoma law enforcement officers to know the difference between constructive, contributing, law-abiding citizens versus al-Qaida and other terrorists, she said.
After Soltani was turned away from the House chamber Friday, he and others entered the gallery to watch the proceedings.
Michael Hoehn, a Washington, D.C., attorney working with the event’s organizers, told reporters that the gallery had been closed. He later questioned Soltani in the gallery and entered the press gallery to quiz reporters about their attendance.
Joe Griffin, a spokesman for House Speaker T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, said Shannon granted a request to use the chamber for the event but did not close the gallery, which is normally open to the public.
Rep. John Bennett, R-Sallisaw, is chairman of the House Counterterrorism Caucus. He said it was not his intent to close the gallery, nor did he direct anyone to attempt to close it.
“My concern is that (the seminar) is law enforcement only, and he (Soltani) is not a police officer and never has been — never been in the military — and he is not going to be in those places where he can make a direct impact for the betterment of Oklahoma with this knowledge,” Bennett said of the decision to deny attendance to Soltani.
However, Bennett said “concerned citizens who wanted to be educated on what is going on” were invited to attend.
After the morning session, Soltani said the content appeared to be skewed toward anti-Muslim bias and did not contain much information of substance that could be beneficial to state law enforcement officers or agencies.
About half the crowd did not return for the seminar after the lunch break. Some used camera phones to take Soltani’s picture as he sat in the gallery.
After the seminar, Soltani told a reporter that about 30,000 Muslims live in Oklahoma. They want nothing more than to raise happy families and lead productive lives, he said.
To demonize their religion and spread fear is inappropriate, he said.
Soltani said he was disappointed that CLEET refused to withdraw its accreditation of the training.
Siddiqui said that “for the sake of our neighbors, co-workers, patients, clients, customers, students and our own families, we need officers of the law to know they can continue to depend on our full cooperation as they always have.”
“To our knowledge, there has never been an instance where Oklahoma Muslims have targeted people of other faiths,” she said. “However, there is a history in Oklahoma where legislators and individuals of other faiths have misrepresented and vilified law-abiding, tax-paying minorities, including Muslims. This training is yet another example.”