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Lawmakers, Community Leader Spar Over Response To Paris Newspaper Attacks

State Rep. John Bennett (R-Sallisaw)
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Oklahoma House of Representatives

State Rep. Mike Shelton (D-Oklahoma City) wants to prohibit the use of taxpayer resources to attack a religious organization.

He called on House Speaker Jeff Hickman (R-Fairview) to act after state Rep. John Bennett (R-Sallisaw) made comments against Islam and the Quran through the House media office in a press release sent out earlier Thursday.

“I’m a fervent believer in free speech,” Shelton said in a statement. “But Representative Bennett’s speech isn’t free, because he’s using taxpayer-provided resources to conduct personal rants against a religious organization and its activities that have absolutely nothing to do with state government. He should be conducting his personal attacks on his own time, using his personal resources, not House staff and House computers.”

Bennett sent out a statement Thursday questioning remarks by the executive director of the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations Adam Soltani condemning the attacks at the Charlie Hebdo newspaper in Paris.

“Soltani sent a press release claiming the terrorists ‘are not Muslim’ and that they ‘were the antithesis of everything that Islam teaches and represents,’ ” Bennett said. “In fact, the Quran, Islam and Mohammed’s hadiths justifies, teaches and makes it obligatory to commit violence against non-Muslims.”

Soltani responded by saying Bennett was misinterpreting the religion and a majority of Muslims don’t share extremist views.

"This erroneous understanding is similar to when slaver owners used Bible verses to justify the human trafficking of Africans,” Soltani said in a statement. “We condemn the distortions of Islamic principles promoted by both Representative Bennett and violent extremists."

It's not the first time the two men have been at odds. Bennett says Soltani spoke out against his free speech rights on his personal Facebook account last year that led to numerous death threats to him and his family.

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Brian Hardzinski is from Flower Mound, Texas and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. He began his career at KGOU as a student intern, joining KGOU full time in 2009 as Operations and Public Service Announcement Director. He began regularly hosting Morning Edition in 2014, and became the station's first Digital News Editor in 2015-16. Brian’s work at KGOU has been honored by Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRNDI), the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters, the Oklahoma Associated Press Broadcasters, and local and regional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists. Brian enjoys competing in triathlons, distance running, playing tennis, and entertaining his rambunctious Boston Terrier, Bucky.
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