Indiana official ‘sorry’ for Islamophobic posts won’t resign

KOKOMO, Ind. (AP) — An Indiana councilman whose predecessor resigned after posting Islamophobic comments online says he will not step down after he was also criticized for sharing similar views on Facebook.

Roger Stewart, a member of the Kokomo Common Council, was elected last week by the Howard County Republican Party. He replaced Greg Jones, who resigned Jan. 17, after his Islamophobic and homophobic Facebook posts from 2015 came to light.

Last February, Stewart shared a Trump supporter’s post on his private Facebook account that said: “I refuse to bend, twist or change to make Muslims feel comfortable in MY COUNTRY. They either adhere to our laws or leave! THIS IS MY COUNTRY! Understood???”

Stewart also shared a post that described anyone who took the Oath of Office on a Quran, the holy book of Islam, as a traitor, accompanied by a photo of U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Democrat from Minnesota, who was one of the first two Muslim women sworn into Congress.

Stewart said Tuesday, after photos of his posts were published online, that he was “incredibly sorry” if he had “shared something offensive to anyone,” adding that hadn’t been his intent. But he said he would not resign.

“I am an imperfect Christian (who) is also a proud American,” Stewart said in a statement to the Kokomo Tribune. “I served our United States proudly as an Army veteran. I take full responsibility for my shared post. These views do not represent my colleagues, friends, or family.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation’s largest Muslim advocacy organization, called on Stewart to step down.

“Just as we called for the resignation of the previous Islamophobic official (Jones), we urge Mr. Stewart to resign from his post and for a person who understands constitutionally guaranteed religious freedoms to be appointed in his place,” said CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper.

While Jones was running for a council seat in 2015, he posted on Facebook that Muslims are “Goat-Humpers” and said Islam is “a Theocratic Moon Cult.” He also wrote that homosexuality is “a crime against nature.” He has said he regrets saying that.

Stewart told the Kokomo Tribune that he believes America was founded on Judeo-Christian principles, and that Shariah law directly conflicts with U.S. constitutional law.

Shariah is a broad set of values and principles that serves as guidelines for people who practice Islam, including marriages, funerals, dietary laws and even banking practices. Its interpretation varies depending on the community.

Although Howard County Republican Party Chairwoman Jamie Bolser condemned Stewart’s posts, she wouldn’t say whether she supports his resignation. The Islamic Association of Kokomo is in the district Stewart represents.

In an interview last week with the Kokomo Tribune following his selection to the council to represent the 4th district, Stewart said he had learned a lesson from his predecessor’s resignation.

“It reminds me we need to be aware of what we say and do, and be careful how we express ourselves,” he said.