Rania Elsweisy, a Muslim woman from Minneapolis, was escorted out of a women’s retreat due to her religion, prompting a discrimination complaint by the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
The Sept. 28 Annual Hibbing Area Women’s Retreat was open to the public, with an article in the Hibbing Daily Tribune stating that “all women are invited,” Fox Twin Cities reported. Elsweisy registered and paid, and was told by organizers on the phone that they looked forward to her attendance.
When she arrived wearing a head scarf, the event’s speaker, Cynthia Khan, said that she did not want a Muslim in the audience because she would be showing and distributing materials that were “offensive” to Muslims. Elweisy was then physically escorted out.
“The only reason I was kicked out of the event was because of my religion, Islam,” Elsweisy said in a statement released by CAIR-MN. “It is truly hurtful to be treated like you are lesser than somebody or that you don't qualify to be talked to and treated equally as others.”
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CAIR-MN filed discrimination charges based on the Minnesota Human Rights Act. Section 363A.02 states that it is the “public policy of this state to secure for persons in this state, freedom from discrimination: (3) in public accommodations because of race, color, creed, religion ...”
Elsweisy wrote that she and her husband “deeply appreciate the respect for diversity” in Minnesota, where they recently moved from Texas.
“Since then we have taken interest in community and interfaith events, volunteering opportunities, and events revolving around community outreach programs that welcome all.”
The focus of the retreat was Khan’s conversion from Islam to Christianity. Topics that she planned to address included the history of Islam, women in Islam and culture awareness.
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Elsweisy stated that she did not know Khan before the event, and had no plans to interfere with the proceedings.
“I did not disrupt the event or have any intention of doing so,” she wrote.
Khan, however, told a different story.
In a letter to CAIR-MN dated Oct. 2, Larry Crain, senior counsel with Church Law Institute, an educational and advocacy organization for churches, wrote that Khan “observed a Muslim man and woman enter the church that she readily recognized from her prior experience as individuals who were outspoken critics of her ministry.”
He wrote that Khan alerted volunteers that Elsweisy and her husband likely had “ulterior motives,” and that they politely asked them to leave, with the couple did voluntarily.
He added that as the event was not public, but rather a “wholly voluntary, religious-sponsored retreat” sponsored by and hosted at a religious, sectarian institution. They were thus under no obligation to follow the First Amendment rights of free speech and association, and could act autonomously as a religious organization. The same would apply to a function hosted by CAIR for the rights of Muslim, he argued.