Plano Councilman Tom Harrison: Jahannam No, He Won't Go

Patrick Williams
Plano City Council member Tom Harrison, second from left, listens as his fellow council members urge him to resign for publishing anti-Islamic posts on his Facebook page.
Plano City Council member Tom Harrison, after listening to his united council colleagues call on him to do the "honorable" thing and resign for publishing anti-Islamic posts on his Facebook page, delivered a short, simple reply: "I will not comment about anything on the advice of my attorney, but I will not resign."

His words drew a mixture of boos, applause and a couple of shouts of "We love you, Tom," from a standing-room-only crowd of 400 to 500 people who came out at high noon on Sunday for a specially called council meeting to discuss Harrison's fate. After meeting behind closed doors for more than an hour, council members urged Harrison to step down, saying that bigotry and religious intolerance have no place on the council. After his refusal, the council voted 7-1 to censure him.

Harrison, elected in 2015, cast the lone vote against censuring himself.

In practical terms, the effect of the censure vote is nil, the equivalent of a finger-wagging. The Plano council doesn't have the authority to remove Harrison, though voters could petition for a recall election.

Harrison's troubles began last week when he shared a link to a video calling on President Trump to ban Islam in public schools: That was enough for Plano Mayor Harry LaRosiliere to ask for Harrison's resignation. Harrison, who denied being a bigot or racist, apologized for the post online, and several council members at Sunday's meeting said they were originally willing to forgive his mistake. Then they learned that he had shared several other items on Facebook with a clear anti-Muslim bias. Like one, for instance, that apparently was removed Sunday afternoon. It linked to a story illustrated with images of slaves that reads: "In the 19th century, all slaveholders were Democrats. In the 21st century, all slaveholders are Muslims. Their allies are Democrats." Those council members who said they were willing to accept Harrison's apology for the first post said Sunday that they couldn't overlook a half-dozen or so that were similar in tone.

"This kind of intolerable behavior, this insensitivity, needs to cease," Mayor Pro Tem Rick Grady said. Harrison's personal opinions expressed on Facebook and his claim to represent all of Plano without bias don't jibe, Grady said. "An honorable person would have removed himself immediately. ... In other words, he would have fallen on his sword. ... In this, I don't find an honorable person."
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It was standing room only at Plano City Hall on Sunday, as the City Council called on Tom Harrison to resign.
Patrick Williams

Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Ron Kelley, a Southern Baptist minister, said he found the slavery message "appalling."

"My faith tells me to love all people," Kelley said. "... It's an un-American thing to shame people for their religion."

Council members stressed Plano's inclusiveness as a community, a fact that was in evidence in the crowd, with its mix of whites, Asians and Muslims, many wearing hijabs and holding signs both supporting and opposing Harrison.

The issue, Kelley said, is not political. It's a question of right versus wrong.

In fact, it seemed to be a bit of both. The mayor has backed plans calling for higher density development, i.e., more apartments and renters. But many residents complain that urbanization and more traffic are robbing Plano of what they loved best about the city —  single-family homes, plenty of green space and, most important, not being Dallas.

"I don't blame people. I blame their politicians more. [They] perpetuate the hate, perpetuate the fear." - Obaid Siddiqui

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Harrison supporter Lynn Lin, who has lived in Plano for 30 years, said the city has grown overcrowded and overbuilt with apartments under LaRosiliere, and that the "quality" of its citizens has dropped. She said Harrison, who supports keeping Plano's suburban feel, should be forgiven for his mistake. "I believe nobody's perfect besides God," she said. "I'm a Christian, but I respect everybody's religion."

For Harrison opponent Obaid Siddiqui, a naturalized U.S. citizen and Muslim from Pakistan, the talk of respect and inclusion didn't match the reality that he and fellow Muslims face, of students being called terrorists by their classmates simply because they are Muslim, of Muslim children living in fear.

"The people don't want their representatives to spread hate," Siddiqui said. "... I don't blame people. I blame their politicians more. [They] perpetuate the hate, perpetuate the fear."

As for that video posted by Harrison that led to his censure, it appears to show Muslim children praying in public schools, though it doesn't say whether they're praying in America or the Middle East. The subject of setting aside time and space in schools for Muslim children to pray on Fridays, as their religion calls for, was the subject of a minor spat last year between Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, no friend of Islam himself, and Frisco ISD. The district had accommodated students at one of its schools by setting aside time for prayer in an unused classroom. That saved the students from taking time away from school to travel to the nearest mosque and then back to class.

"Christians get all Sunday off to go to church," Siddiqui said. "Jews get all Saturday, and we don't have a problem with that."

So why would Harrison share a video attacking Muslim children being given time to pray? Maybe someday his lawyers will give him the OK to explain.