In the face of criticism about his Facebook comments about Muslims, Lacey City Councilman Jason Hearn said Thursday night that he would reach out to the local Muslim community.
“I’m very pleased that they reached out to me,” Hearn said about the people who attended Thursday night’s City Council meeting to address his comments. “And I’m impressed with the large majority of comments and the sincere tone. I look forward to reaching back as requested.”
About 50 people attended Thursday’s meeting, including some from Olympia and Tumwater and from several faith communities. All shared their displeasure with Hearn’s comments. Some also called on Hearn to apologize and resign. Another said Hearn needed to make amends by reaching out to Muslim leadership in South Sound.
A number of attendees were associated with Interfaith Works, the multifaith organization whose mission is social change through interfaith understanding and cooperation.
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They came in response to comments Hearn made on a friend’s Facebook page that were posted Nov. 15. He referred to President Obama as a “Muslim or at least an avid Muslim sympathizer” and he said that “15 percent of Muslims are radical with violent intentions.”
Interfaith Works board member Mary Wharton read from a prepared statement.
“This is poison for a community,” she said about Hearn’s comments. “It pits neighbor against neighbor and can escalate to vandalism and even violence, as has happened more than a few times in our community.”
Anise Ahmed of Tumwater told the audience that he came to the United States 34 years ago.
“Everyone has a right to free speech, but it hurts when a whole faith is put on the line,” he said, adding that Hearn’s comments “propagate Islamaphobia.”
Longtime Lacey resident Glen Anderson, perhaps best known for his work with the Olympia Fellowship of Reconciliation, said he had never heard a council member say something so ignorant and mean-spirited.
“I call upon the City Council to explicitly and publicly rebuke his behavior and call on them to publicly affirm respect for all religions and demographic groups,” Anderson said. He added that Hearn should apologize and resign.
Jim Bamberger of Olympia echoed Anderson’s comments.
“Your comments were offensive, hurtful, bigoted and hateful,” he said. Bamberger, too, called on the council to formally admonish the councilman and for him to apologize and resign.
Some in the audience chose not to focus on Hearn’s comments, but to remind him that they, too, are Americans.
Rokaih Vansot, who years ago fled the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, said she moved to Lacey when she was 14.
“I loved growing up in Lacey,” she told the council. But she acknowledged that when she wears her veil, she sometimes is “fearful for my life and my children because of my beliefs.”
“We are and always will be Americans,” she said, “united as one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.”
Her son, Audil Osman, a 12-year-old student at Chinook Middle School, also spoke.
“We deserve the same opportunities as all Americans,” he said.
Mustafa Mohamedali, social secretary of the Islamic Center of Olympia, reminded the audience how loaded language can lead to hate speech and hate crimes, and that anti-Muslim sentiment is at an all-time high.
He said Hearn’s comments “undermined the trust and integrity of the council member.”