Protest draws equal support, opposition on Rothschild's Muslim remarks

The crowd was anything but one-sided during a press conference Thursday afternoon organized by a coalition of interfaith groups protesting a recent editorial from Commissioner Richard Rothschild, R-District 4, that defended presidential candidate Ben Carson's comment that a follower of Islam could not be president.

A coalition of interfaith groups protesting a recent opinion piece, which was written by Commissioner Richard Rothschild, R-District 4, and defended presidential candidate Ben Carson's comment that a follower of Islam can not be president, attracted a crowd that was anything but one-sided.

Zainab Chaudry, Maryland outreach manager for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a national group whose stated mission is to advocate for justice and mutual understanding of the Islamic religion, was flanked by representatives of The ACLU of Maryland, the Jewish Voice for Peace, the Interfaith Action for Human Rights and a handful of supporters. They faced off against a similar number of Rothschild supporters.


"His Islamophobic rhetoric was disturbing to all who cherish American values," Chaudry said before a news conference outside of the Carroll County Office Building in Westminster. "It's especially important as an elected official not to exhibit prejudice and judgment."

The coalition presented a letter to Commissioners Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, and Richard Weaver, R-District 2, that asks the other commissioners to publicly and officially repudiate Rothschild's comments.

Before the news conference, she questioned the commissioner's commentary, which she called "hate-filled" and "un-American."

"This kind of misunderstanding contributes to fear and hostility," Chaudry said during the news conference, "and extremists end up defining the remaining Muslims in the world."

"Those are lies," interrupted Bruce Holstein, Rothschild's campaign manager. During the news conference, Holstein held a cardboard sign that read "Rothschild is Right, CAIR is Wrong." Before the news conference he said the claims made by the council and its affiliates about the column were unfounded.

"Most of what they are talking about they made up," he said. "Then they proceeded to denigrate his argument. We need to focus on Islamic law, and that is incompatible with the Constitution."

Rothschild said in the opinion piece, which appeared Monday in the Carroll County Times, that because the country was founded on Judeo-Christian values, there are fundamental differences in these faiths that would make it irreconcilable for a president to "obey Islam and take an oath to God to defend the Constitution." That president "will either be violating his oath to Islam, or committing perjury when he swears to uphold the Constitution," Rothschild wrote.

Although he did not make an appearance during the news conference, Rothschild said during an interview afterward that he's "glad that in America [the council] can exercise their First Amendment rights, as can I."

Rothschild defended his comments in an interview Wednesday, saying the context of his opinion piece pertained solely to the plausibility that a president could be Islamic and hold office.

"The question I was addressing was can you take an oath to Islam and the Constitution, and do they maintain mutually exclusive differences. And I believe there are irreconcilable differences, but only in the context of holding an elected office, but not as a citizen," he said.

Seth Morrison, a member of the steering committee for the Washington branch of Jewish Voice for Peace, said any discrimination based on religion or national origin is wrong.

"It's never a black-and-white issue, but we believe all people should enjoy their rights as Americans," Morrison said.

Randy Linville, a supporter of the interfaith coalition and an observer at Thursday's news conference, said there is certainly a radical element to Islam but to paint every follower of the religion with that brush is a travesty.

"The Westboro Baptist Church doesn't define Christianity just as ISIS doesn't define Islam," the Eldersburg resident said. "It's ignorance, misunderstanding, and lets the 1 percent define people's views."


Kirk Wiebe, a former senior analyst for the National Security Agency and a whistleblower on government operations who lives in Westminster and attended the news conference, said afterward that the American people need to be aware that not all Muslims are the same.

Just as in Christianity, there are some followers of Islam who are conservative in their beliefs and others that are "loosey-goosey" in their adherence to Islamic law and tradition, he said.

"All Rothschild and Ben Carson wanted to say was be aware that if we had a presidential candidate that was a conservative Muslim, where there allegiance is to Sharia law and not to the Constitution, you have a problem," Wiebe said.

The news conference was short, lasting less than 10 minutes, but a debate followed involving supporters and opponents of Rothschild's column. Charles Feinberg, executive director of the Interfaith Action for Human Rights, said during the debate that a Muslim elected official would not be a new occurrence.

"We have Muslims in Congress and as far as I know they uphold the Constitution," Feinberg said. "The facts belie what [Rothschild] wrote."