The decision by some house lawmakers to reject an invocation which was to have been delivered to North Dakota House on Ash Wednesday has created no small amount of controversy and attracted national media attention. Now a lawmaker at the center of the controversy is hinting at a boycott, and his political party is putting some distance between themselves and this controversy.
Dr. Nadim Koleilat of the Bismarck Muslim Community Center was blocked from giving an invocation to the state House on Ash Wednesday last week (he gave it to the state Senate instead, audio here). In the aftermath of that decision House leaders were quick to say that he’d be invited back again at a later date and that the issue was simply that he was to speak on a Christian holy day.
During a radio interview with me on Friday alongside a representative of the Council on American-Islamic Relations Rep. Dwight Kiefert (R-Valley City) said similar things, stating that the main point of contention with Koleilat’s invocation was that it was happening on Ash Wednesday.
But Kiefert has now contradicted those statements in an email sent out to fellow lawmakers and supporters.
He mentions that he will not be participating if a Muslim leader is invited back to the chamber. He further states that other lawmakers may be boycotting with him, and that he may be making national media appearances on Fox News and possibly the Alan Colmes show this coming week.
Here’s what he sent:
On the Muslim Prayer, I only asked if it would be more appropriate to have a Christian deliver the prayer on one of the Holiest days of the Christian faith? This question along with volunteers post on our District 24 Facebook page wanting to have a discussion on the issue landed me in the New York Times. I might be on Fox News with Alan Combs Tuesday discussing this event.
Also this issue isn’t going away, the National Muslims are demanding an apology from ND for not allowing a Muslim to pray on a Christian Holiday. They have invited him to come back on Wednesday and I am sure the media will all be there to see if I will pray to Allah. I don’t think so, many will not be on the floor. Last Wednesday they blindsided the Senate with him praying.
You can read the full email below (he also provides an update on two school security bills he introduced this session).
Numerous Republican lawmakers and party activists have contacted me saying critical things about Kiefert and his stance on this issue. Only one so far would speak to me on the record about it.
“To be clear, Dwight Kiefert speaks for himself. He certainly does not speak for the North Dakota Republican Party,” NDGOP Vice Chairman Jim Poolman told me this evening in response to the email.
Objecting to a Muslim invocation on Ash Wednesday is one thing, though I don’t think that justified blocking him. But it’s becoming clear that, at least for Kiefert and others who might boycott with him, this isn’t about the timing of the invocation so much as it’s about their objection to a Muslim addressing the chamber.
Please note that the people who received the email are not people who necessarily agree with Kiefert. It was sent to them and was otherwise about legislation.
Update: Rep. Roscoe Streyle, who received the email, sent long this response to it:
“I honestly don’t know any other lawmakers who support his statements. I for one need all the prayers I can get and appreciate the many pastors, priests, and anyone who would take time out of their day to give meaningful and uplifting prayers before each session.”
Update: More from Senator Kelly Armstrong:
Nadim Koleilat is a doctor who who spends his days healing sick people in Bismarck. He gave up a few minutes out of what must be a busy schedule to offer us a thoughtful prayer last Wednesday after which he placed his hand over his heart and pledged allegiance to the same flag I do. Anyone willing to do that deserves our respect and gratitude.