*Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.
Freshman state Rep. Molly White, R-Belton, is not in Austin today to celebrate Texas Muslim Capitol Day. But she left instructions for the staff in her Capitol office on how to handle visitors who are, including asking them to declare allegiance to the United States.
"I did leave an Israeli flag on the reception desk in my office with instructions to staff to ask representatives from the Muslim community to renounce Islamic terrorist groups and publicly announce allegiance to America and our laws," she posted on Facebook. "We will see how long they stay in my office."
Texas Muslim Capitol Day, which began in 2003, is organized by the Texas chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations and brings members of Muslim communities in Houston, Dallas and other areas of the state to the Capitol to learn about the political process and meet state lawmakers. Texas has the eighth-largest Muslim population in the United States, with more than 420,000 Muslims residing in the state, according to estimates from the Texas State Historical Association.
Even before participants in Thursday's event — about 100 Muslims, mostly children — could get to lawmakers' offices, they encountered opposition from a group of about 25 protesters outside the Capitol holding signs. One said, "Radical Islam is the New Nazi." Another said, "Go Home & Take Obama With You."
The Muslim group held a press conference on the South steps of the Capitol, where one of the protesters yanked the microphone from an event organizer, shouting, “Islam will never dominate the United States and by the grace of God, it will never dominate Texas.”
As the group of Muslims continued the event by singing "The Star-Spangled Banner," the interruptions persisted, with the protesters yelling, “Islam is a lie!” and “No Sharia here!”
Mustafaa Carroll, the executive director of the Houston chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations, called the behavior "very frustrating." Carroll said this was the first year protesters showed up since Muslim Capitol Day began.
"I'm more concerned with state leaders and what they say than I am about anybody else because they are the lawmakers," he said.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations has sent a letter to House Speaker Joe Straus asking whether White had violated ethics rules by instructing her staff to ask Muslim visitors to her office to declare their allegiance to the United States.
"Our ethics question is: Has Rep. White violated any House rules in creating such an internal office policy that is selectively being enforced to discriminate against certain religious minorities trying to meet with her or her staff?" the letter asks. "Are House members prohibited from making constituents take oaths before meeting with their elected representatives or House staff?"
In a statement, Straus said: "Legislators have a responsibility to treat all visitors just as we expect to be treated — with dignity and respect. Anything else reflects poorly on the entire body and distracts from the very important work in front of us." His statement did not address the ethics complaint.
As of mid-morning, the Israeli flag was still on the desk in White's office. By noon, she had released a follow-up Facebook post that added: “I do not apologize for my comments. … If you love America, obey our laws and condemn Islamic terrorism, then I embrace you as a fellow American. If not, then I do not."
But at 3 p.m., White released a new statement saying she welcomed "all of my constituents who would like to come and visit our office in the Texas State Capitol."
"As law-abiding American citizens, we all have the privilege and the right to freedom of speech granted to us by the First Amendment," she wrote. "... As a proud Texan and American I fully denounce all terrorist groups or organizations who’s [sic] intent is to hurt and destroy the great state of Texas and our nation.”
This was not the first time White has aired her concerns about Muslims on Facebook.
In June, she took to the social network to pledge that "finding Jihadists in Texas and arresting them" and purging the state "of all Muslim, military training camps including Imam's [sic] who promote, assist and encourage Jihad" would be among her top priorities as a legislator.
In the comments on that post, she warned her followers that "Muslims cannot be trusted no matter how peaceful they appear."
"If they come here and convert to the American way of life I may be more willing to trust," she continued. "When they come here to advance their way of life, Islam, then no trust there."