AUSTIN, Texas -- A small group of vitriolic hecklers and overt suspicion from one lawmaker greeted hundreds of Muslims who rallied Thursday during their biennial Texas Capitol lobbying day - the first time the event has drawn protesters.
As the Council on American-Islamic Relations opened the gathering on the Capitol steps, inside the Capitol, an Israeli flag - a symbol of support for the Jewish state - greeted visitors to Rep. Molly White's office. On Facebook, the first-year Republican lawmaker posted that she was out of the office but gave her staff instructions to ask visiting Muslims "to renounce Islamic terrorist groups and publicly announce allegiance to America and our laws."
The council responded by sending a note to House Speaker Joe Straus asking if White violated the chamber's rules by discriminating against religious minorities.
"Are House members prohibited from making constituents take oaths before meeting with their elected representatives or house staff?" the letter asks.
In a statement, Straus said only that all Capitol visitors should be treated respectfully, adding, "Anything else reflects poorly on the entire body and distracts from the very important work in front of us."
CBS affiliate KEYE-TV reports that this isn't the first time White has made controversial comments about Muslims. In a June Facebook post she said "Muslims cannot be trusted no matter how peaceful they appear."
Meanwhile, protester Christine Weick, who had been posing as a participant, grabbed the microphone.
"Islam will never dominate in the United States," the 50-year-old from Michigan said, "and by the grace of God it will not dominate Texas!"
The microphone was quickly wrestled back and a Texas Department of Public Safety trooper led her back to the crowd. But throughout the hourlong rally, about two-dozen protesters chanted things like, "No Sharia here," ''One God," and "Remember 9/11" while holding posters and flags.
Despite the hecklers, the nonprofit council continued their program. About 300 people, including dozens of middle and high school students, attended the rally and then met with lawmakers to share their concerns with several proposed bills.
Council Executive Director Mustafaa Carroll said the event began in 2003 and never drew opposition before, but that online threats prompted the council to contact the FBI. FBI spokeswoman Michelle Lee wouldn't confirm or deny their involvement, and there was a noticeable DPS and law enforcement presence.
Carroll said the group's agenda in no way encouraged passage of Sharia law, the moral code and religious law of Islam.
"It's not even logical," he said. "It's a shame that I even have to address that."
Narwaz and Mariam Ghouri said they brought their 1-year-old son to the rally to introduce him to the realities Muslims face. The Plano couple also attended a recent event in a Dallas suburb that drew hundreds of protesters.
"We don't want Islamaphobia to affect our son in a negative way," said Narwaz Ghouri, 26. "We want him to see what the community is really about, and to be engaged."
No lawmakers attended the rally, but a representative from Houston Democratic Rep. Sylvester Turner's office spoke and welcomed the crowd.
Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who oversees the Senate, said he didn't attend because he didn't receive an invitation, not because of any anti-Muslim sentiment. When Patrick was a new state senator in 2007, he walked off the floor to boycott the chamber's first daily prayer that was led by a Muslim cleric.