Calling President Obama's planned visit to a Baltimore mosque Wednesday an endorsement of terrorism, a Republican lawmaker from Frederick County proposed legislation that would prohibit religious organizations with "known ties to terrorism" from claiming tax breaks.
Del. David Vogt, who is seeking the Republican nomination to Congress in the Sixth District, announced plans to introduce a bill empowering the state to deny exemptions and tax credits to churches, other religious institutions and other organizations if the Comptroller's Office determines that they have terrorist ties.
The text of Vogt's bill does not mention mosques, but the delegate sent out a news release indicating that mosques are its main target.
"One Maryland state representative is targeting mosques that promote radical Islam and endorse acts of terrorism," Vogt said in his release.
Vogt coupled his legislation with a denunciation of Obama's plans to visit The Islamic Society of Baltimore -- his first visit as president to an American mosque.
“The President’s visit to a mosque with a history of promoting terrorism is a disgrace, and this bill ensures that Maryland’s taxpayers aren’t subsidizing special treatment for terrorist sympathizers,” Vogt's release said.
Vogt's based his charge against the Baltimore mosque on statements made by a former imam, Mohamad Adam El Sheikh. The Washington Post quoted El Sheikh as saying in 2004 that under some circumstances suicide bombing could be justified. According to his LinkedIn page, he left the Baltimore mosque in 2003.
"There's plenty of mosques that have no questionable background," Vogt said.
The bill calls for the comptroller to make the determination of whether an organization has terrorist ties based on consultation with the Department of Homeland Security. It does not spell out a standard of proof or provide for a hearing process for a group that is singled out.
Vogt said he is not worried that the bill gives the comptroller too much power.
"We entrust the comptroller and elect him to do the job," Vogt said. He said the bill has 22 co-sponsors, all Republicans.
Sara Love, an attorney with the ACLU of Maryland, said the bill raises legal issues because of its focus on religion.
"I can't imagine that this would withstand any constitutional challenge," Love said.
Vogt, a Marine veteran who served in Afghanistan, disagreed.'"The First Amendment protects freedom of speech and religion," he said. "It doesn't protect the freedom to encourage or support terrorism.".
Vogt, who opposes abortion, said the bill could also be applied to a Christian church that encouraged violent attacks against clinics that provide that service.
Since the White House announced the visit over the weekend, conservative news sites have put a spotlight El Sheikh.
In response to written questions this week, El Sheikh said he had never condoned suicide attacks. He called them “un-Islamic.”
“I have spoken out repeatedly and consistently against terrorism and religious extremism and in support of freedom and justice for all people,” he said.
Sun reporter Ian Duncan contributed to this article.