The Republican Party in Texas’ third-largest county on Thursday voted in support of its Vice Chairman Shahid Shafi against efforts to remove him because of his Muslim faith.
The vote, which took place behind closed doors at a church in a Ft. Worth suburb, ended in a 139-49 vote to keep him in place.
“As an immigrant to this great country, I am honored and privileged to receive the support of my fellow Republicans,” Shafi said to reporters after the vote. “We were fighting for religious freedom—a founding principle of our nation. And today, we have come out victorious. Today, we sent a clear message... that all men are created equal with certain inalienable rights."
“This vote reaffirms the commitment by a majority of Tarrant County Republicans to our core values and moral compass, a demonstration of our allegiance to the Texas Republican Party Platform and the Constitutions of the United States and Texas, which strictly prohibit religious and racial discrimination of any kind,” county chairman Darl Easton said in a statement following the vote.
Shafi is a naturalized U.S. citizen who emigrated from Pakistan nearly 30 years ago. He was appointed vice chairman of the Tarrant County GOP in July 2018. The movement to fire him began shortly thereafter when a group of local Republicans, led by Dorrie O’Brien, a precinct chair, expressed fears that Shafi, a general surgeon, prefers Sharia law over the U.S. Constitution and implied he may have connections to terrorism.
“We don’t think he’s suitable as a practicing Muslim to be vice chair because he’d be the representative for ALL Republicans in Tarrant County, and not ALL Republicans in Tarrant County think Islam is safe or acceptable,” O’Brien recently wrote on Facebook. “There are big questions surrounding exactly where Dr. Shafi’s loyalties lie, vis a vis Democrat and Republican policies.”
On Thursday, O’Brien, reportedly wearing an American flag sweater, told media she had “no comment” ahead of the vote.
Shafi’s supporters and opponents reportedly showed up in droves. Reporters at the church documented several of the attendees on both sides, including Shayan Elahi, a civil-rights attorney who carried a “No Hate in DFW” sign; and Sara Legvold, a former member of the state’s Republican executive committee, who wore a burqa “to make a statement,” claiming Shafi is a Sharia loyalist who has “infiltrated” the Republicans.
“This is, unfortunately, not the first time that people or my political opponents have tried to use my religion against me to distract the voters,” Shafi, an elected member of the Southlake city council, told The Washington Post in December. “And unfortunately, I don’t think it will be the last either.”
While Shafi received support from Texas Republican figures like Sen. Ted Cruz—who wrote that “Discrimination against Dr. Shafi b/c he’s Muslim is wrong… The Party of Lincoln should welcome everybody and celebrate liberty”—other local Republicans joined O’Brien in calling for Shafi’s removal.
James Scott Trimm, a Hurst-based precinct chair, wrote Wednesday night on Facebook that “I am voting against Shafi Thursday night because I don’t believe he shares the ideology of our party platform. Shafi wants to be Vice Chair because he doesn’t believe ideology matters!”
In a November open letter, Shafi denied the Islamophobic accusations leveled against him. “I have never had any association with the Muslim Brotherhood nor CAIR [the Council on American-Islamic Relations] nor any terrorist organization,” he wrote. “I fully support and believe in American Laws for American Courts.”
He urged his fellow Republicans to “build trust by breaking bread with our neighbors who don’t look like us or talk with an accent,” before concluding: “I am honored to be an American and a Republican.”
While Shafi’s critics were vocal, he was supported by other Tarrant Republican officials, including chairman Easton, who wrote a letter to precinct chairs, supporting Shafi and calling the situation an “injustice.”
“I stand with Dr. Shafi and the inclusion of just about everyone in the political world who generally agrees with the Republican Platform over that of the Democrats,” Easton wrote. “I urge my fellow precinct chairs to vote against his removal.”
Other major state Republicans joined Easton and Sen. Cruz in opposing the measure to expel Shafi. Gov. Greg Abbott called the vote “contrary to the principle of religious freedom” in a statement obtained by The Daily Beast.
Texas land commissioner George P. Bush wrote that “What matters is a person’s character, judgment and values. Shahid Shafi has all three.”