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Tarrant County GOP’s Vice-Chairman Survives Recall Vote Over His Religion

Leslie Boorhem-Stephenson for The Texas Tribune
Dr. Shahid Shafi entered a Tarrant County Republican Party executive committee meeting at Faith Creek Church in Richland Hills on Thursday before a failed attempt to oust him from his vice-chairmanship because he's Muslim.

Shahid Shafi will retain his role as vice-chairman of the Tarrant County Republican Party despite a push from a small faction of precinct chairs to remove him from his post because he's Muslim.

Shafi, a trauma surgeon and Southlake City Council member, said after the vote that he holds no animosity to people who backed the attempted ouster. He also said he was proud to be an American and a Republican.

"We need to learn to trust each other so we can create a more perfect union everyday," he said.

Shafi came to the U.S. in 1990 and became a naturalized citizen in 2009. The attacks on his religion, however, came shortly after Tarrant County GOP Chair Darl Easton appointed him to a leadership role within the county party in July.

Those who were in favor of Shafi's removal said he's unequipped to be vice-chairman because he doesn’t represent all Tarrant County Republicans due to his religion. They've also said Islamic ideologies run counter to the U.S. Constitution — an assertion many Texas GOP officials have called bigoted and Shafi himself has vehemently denied.

Dorrie O'Brien, one of the precinct chairs leading the charge against Shafi, previously said her support for ousting him stems not from his religion, but whether he supports Islam or is connected “to Islamic terror groups,” the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.

The failed attempt to oust Shafi by a small local faction drew national attention as well as condemnation from some of the state's top Republicans. In a statement Wednesday, Gov. Greg Abbott said "the promise of freedom of religion is guaranteed by the First Amendment in the Constitution; and Article 1, Section 4 of the Texas Constitution states that no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust in this state."

"Religious freedom is at the core of who we are as a nation and state, and attacks on Dr. Shafi because of his faith are contrary to this guiding principle," the governor concluded.

Easton, one of Shafi's defenders, told The Texas Tribune earlier this week that the movement to remove Shafi was "about religious prejudice." He was not immediately available for additional comment Thursday.

Former Tarrant County precinct chair Sara Legvold said she was concerned that Shafi could be connected to the Muslim brotherhood — yet offered no evidence other than the fact that he’s a Muslim. Legvold did not vote on the motion to recall Shafi, but sat outside Thursday’s closed-door meeting wearing a burqa to “represent the Islamization of our county, our state and our country.”

“You already see it in the workplace where Muslims demand they’re able to wear their hijab and demand they get a prayer room,” she said. “When was the last time a Christian was allowed to have a separate place to say their prayers?"

Legvold also said that Shafi's opponents had been vilified.

"They’ve said nothing but horrible things about us — that we’re bigots and Islamophobes and white supremacists — when we’re just patriots who care for our country," she said.

Though the movement to reconsider Shafi’s appointment was afoot well ahead of last year’s midterm elections, Thursday’s vote comes just months after Tarrant County — considered the most conservative urban county in the country — narrowly flipped in favor of Texas Democrats’ star senatorial candidate, Beto O’Rourke. In Tarrant County and the surrounding Dallas-Fort Worth region, several Texas Senate and House seats went to Democrats, including the district previously held by conservative state Sen. Konni Burton of Colleyville.

Tripp Bryant, a State Republican Executive Committee representative from Senate District 22 that includes part of Tarrant, said it was “appalling” members of the Tarrant County party were being divisive over someone's religion months after Republicans in the area made nail-biters of races that had once been safe wins. He noted that Republicans U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and U.S. Rep. Ron Wright lost in the county.

“In my personal opinion, they need to pull their heads out of their fourth point of contact and they need to focus on winning elections and stop pointing the finger at Muslims," Bryant said.

Another precinct chair used an expletive to describe Thursday's motion.

"I'm a Jewish precinct chair," John Seidenstein said, "does this mean I'm next?"

The Texas Tribune provided this story.

Alex Samuels is a reporting fellow for the Texas Tribune and a journalism senior at The University of Texas at Austin. She came to the Tribune in fall 2016 as a newsletters fellow, writing the daily Brief and contributing to the water, education and health newsletters. Alex previously worked for USA Today College as both a collegiate correspondent and their first-ever breaking news correspondent. She has also worked for the Daily Dot where she covered politics, race, and social issues.