The Oklahoma Democratic Party and state chapter of a Muslim civil rights and advocacy group strongly disapprove of the Oklahoma Republican Party’s new leader.

Former state representative John Bennett was elected state GOP chair this weekend. As a lawmaker, he referred to Islam as a “cancer that must be cut out of America,” made Muslim students visiting his office fill out a form asking if they beat their wives and once accepted an award from an anti-Muslim hate group.

Council on American Islamic Relations Oklahoma Executive Director Adam Soltani said he thought the state was making progress.

“But the Republican Party of Oklahoma, by allowing him to run in the first place and by accepting his election to be the chair of their statewide party, has proven to me as a Muslim that they endorse John Bennett’s hatred, his bigotry and his Islamophobia,” Soltani said.

Soltani said Bennett must apologize for his past comments to indicate he’s willing to move forward.

NAACP Oklahoma City President Garland Pruitt said Bennett’s election should be opposed.

“There’s not any of us as individuals that should not respect a difference of opinion, should not respect religious belief, and when we get to the point that we are non-tolerant of others, that’s the problem,” Pruitt said.

Oklahoma Democratic Party Chair Alicia Andrews asked the state GOP to take a moment to think about its choice of leadership, made just before Monday’s start of Ramadan.

“Though I have political differences with my neighbors who are registered Republicans, I want to believe that our differences are policy based, not based in bigotry,” Andrews said.

The Oklahoma Senate invited Bennett to give its opening prayer Monday.

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