jefferson faceWritten by Don Byrd

Every two years, Texas Muslims gather at the State Capitol. The purpose is to meet their elected officials, give young people a civics lesson on how their government operates, and learn about political advocacy. 

Unfortunately, in 2015 this beautiful idea of citizen engagement and education was marred by protests. Anti-Muslim demonstrators chanted rude slogans and carried ugly signs. One woman even interrupted the program outside the Capitol building, grabbed the microphone and podium from the Muslim woman speaking and proclaimed her Christianity. 

This year, something else altogether happened. The Dallas Morning News reports:

Muslims from across Texas gathered at the Capitol’s south steps and were surrounded by a human chain of volunteers, who were prepared to protect participants from protests similar to those that erupted at the same event in 2015. Organizers initially said they were expecting at least 500 attendees, but the crowd Tuesday morning was about four times larger.

“In all the years, we’ve never seen the sea of supporters that we see today,” said Alia Salem, the executive director of North Texas’ chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which organizes Texas Muslim Capitol Day.

In late 2015, the Baptist Joint Committee and several other organizations launched the Know Your Neighbor project, which encourages interfaith dialogue to promote understanding. A premise of the campaign is that engaging with those around us of diverse faiths, will equip our communities to stand up to hatred and bigotry through the strength of bonds built on our common humanity.

The bad news in this Texas story is that the threat of religious intimidation and harassment is so pronounced that human protectors were needed to ensure the Texas Muslim Capitol Day could go on this year. The good news is that those supporters came in enormous numbers. It serves as a powerful example of the impact we can have when we support one another across lines of faith. No American should be afraid to visit their state capitol, or to experience the empowerment of citizen advocacy, because of their faith.

Here’s hoping that, in Austin, true dialogue continues to emerge from this moment of solidarity.