Editor's note: This story has been updated.
Ahead of Texas Muslim Capitol Day scheduled for later this month, freshman state Rep. Kyle Biedermann, R-Fredericksburg, sent a letter to mosque leaders and Muslim student associations across the state asking them to fill out a poll about their beliefs.
In a letter dated Jan. 11 and signed by Biedermann, Muslim Texans were asked to state whether they support efforts to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a foreign terrorist organization, the “Declaration of Muslim Reform Movement” and a pledge regarding the safety of former Muslims.
The results of the poll, the letter indicates, would be shared with Texas elected officials.
Asked about the poll, which was first reported by Quorum Report, a spokesman for Biedermann instead responded with a media advisory to a “homeland security summit” that Biedermann is hosting at the Texas Capitol on Jan. 26 “to thoroughly understand the critical threat of radical Islamic terrorism in Texas.”
Biedermann's office later provided a statement from the representative who touted his work on "border and overall homeland security.
"The poll that went out was paid for with private funds and was sent out to gather responses in advance of my upcoming Homeland Security Summit," Biedermann said in the statement.
Among the participants of the summit are representatives for the American Islamic Forum for Democracy and Former Muslims United — two groups that also signed the letter sent by Biedermann. Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne is also listed as a participant.
Bee Moorhead, executive director of statewide interfaith organization Texas Impact, said her group urged mosque and student association leaders to not respond to Biedermann’s survey after receiving calls from Muslims who received his letter. In a separate letter to Biedermann, the group called his survey “misleading and intimidating.”
“It’s shocking that a few legislators — and it really does seem to be a few — insist on trying to marginalize [Muslims] session after session and try to keep them boxed into only being relevant on issues where it’s their identity that’s at stake,” Moorhead said. “It’s so disrespectful.”
Texas is home to more than 42,000 Muslims, the eighth-largest Muslim population in the United States, according to estimates from the Texas State Historical Association.
On Jan. 31, days after Biedermann's summit is scheduled, Muslims from around the state are expected at the state Capitol for Texas Muslim Capitol Day, a biennial advocacy day for members of Muslim communities. Started in 2003, the biennial event is organized by the Texas chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations to bring Muslim Texans to the Capitol to learn about the political process and meet state lawmakers.
Mustafaa Carroll, the executive director of CAIR's Houston chapter, said they were moving forward with this year's event and would continue working to connect elected officials with Muslim constituents.
“If they really wanted to understand American Muslims, they’d talk directly to us instead of sending these silly polls to test people in some propaganda that you put out there or that you're getting,” Carroll said.
This isn’t the first time anti-Muslim sentiment has roiled the Muslim community’s advocacy day.
During the last legislative session, former state Rep. Molly White, R-Belton, left instructions for her staff to ask Muslim visitors to her office on Texas Muslim Capitol Day 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," White posted on Facebook at the time. "We will see how long they stay in my office."
The group of Muslims at the Capitol — largely made up of children — were also forced to confront protesters during a press conference on the South steps of the Capitol when a woman yanked the microphone from an event organizer and shouted, “Islam will never dominate the United States and by the grace of God, it will never dominate Texas.”
About 25 others held up protest signs and yelled things like “No Sharia here” while a group of Muslim sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
- In a 2015 interview with the Tribune, state Rep. Molly White said she didn't intend to ignite controversy with her comments last week about Muslims, but stood by her suspicions of the religion.
- In October, Biedermann invited, and then awkwardly uninvited, state lawmakers to a polo event amid ethical questions surrounding the offer, according to multiple sources familiar with the situation.
- Texas elected officials have a long history of making waves for comments about Muslims and Islam in America.