An owner of a Muskogee County survivalist store and gun range confirmed Thursday that his business has a sign posted on its window indicating the facility is a “Muslim free establishment,” an act that has drawn criticism and raised legal questions from a national Muslim civil rights advocacy group.
Chad Neal, who is one of the owners of Save Yourself Survival and Tactical Gear in Oktaha, said the sign was posted in response to the July 16 shootings at two military installations in Chattanooga, Tennessee, which left six people including the alleged perpetrator, Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, dead.
The sign states in capital letters, “This privately owned business is a Muslim free establishment, we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.”
“We do not want to have any jihadis training on our gun range and then going down to our local armed services office and having better marksmanship than they showed up with,” said Neal, an Iraq War veteran. “I’ve seen what Muslims and jihadis do to people. It’s just not going to happen in my store.”
Veronica Laizure, civil rights director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Oklahoma, said views such as Neal’s are dangerous to Muslim residents of the state. She also said the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits places providing public accommodation to discriminate based on race, color, sex, religion and national origin.
Neal said he has followed cases of businesses posting similar signs in other states such as Texas and believes he is within his legal rights to do the same in Oklahoma.
“Obviously there’s a lot of stereotypes specifically associated with Muslims,” Laizure said, “specifically the threat of terrorism and extremism. It puts (Muslims) in the ‘other’ category and makes them seem like they’re not a part of their community.
“The Oklahoma Muslim community is proud to be citizens of this state and proud to be in America, and these stereotypes are very damaging because they feel like they can’t take part fully in American life and American society.”
The Save Yourself Survival and Tactical Gear website states that the owners are part of a “Constitutional militia” in Oklahoma and know what it is like to see and be part of natural disasters, which prompted them to begin keeping emergency supplies on hand so people can be “ready to go at a moment’s notice.”
Neal said the move has been met with support from his community except for one person who gave the business a negative review on Facebook. He also called Islam a cult and said the Quran — the faith’s religious text — tells adherents to lie and kill “infidels,” or those who disagree with Islamic teachings.
“We’re part of the community down here, and they love us,” Neal said. “I don’t want to have a bad range day and have someone wearing full Muslim robes and such making someone feel uncomfortable. It’s a free country, and we reserve the right to refuse anyone.”
Laizure said being Muslim does not always equate to being Middle Eastern, and that many Oklahoma Muslims are African-American or of European descent. She additionally noted the differences between the aftermath of the South Carolina mass shooting in June, in which Dylann Roof faces federal charges of killing nine people inside a historically black church, and the Chattanooga shooting in July.
“The Muslim community vehemently opposes violence and extremism in all forms,” Laizure said. “It’s just really unfortunate that the Muslim community is so often put in the spotlight in this negative way when others, particularly white Christian radicals, are not asked to apologize (after attacks.)”
Brady Henderson, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, said in a statement that ideas of public segregation and second-class citizenship “belong in the past.”
“Whether a business’ policy is ‘no coloreds’ or ‘no Muslims,’ it is making the same choice to put hate and ignorance ahead of traditional American values like freedom and equality,” Henderson said. “It is important that we as citizens speak out against the growing movement to resurrect Jim Crow.”
Meanwhile, Neal said he and others who work at the store are Christians who “love everyone” and that he is “not here to start a religion war.”
“We’re a mom-and-pop shop,” he said. “We’re just trying to make it. We’ve pretty much settled in here to keep our community safe.”
Samantha Vicent 918-581-8321