Religious Right Throws Fit Over Islamic Prayer in Virginia


By Rob Boston

Thursday an imam delivered the opening prayer before the Virginia House of Delegates – and once again the Religious Right is having kittens.

Three Religious Right groups – the Traditional Values Coalition, the Virginia Anti-Shariah Task Force and Act for America — say the imam, Johari Abdul-Malik of the Dar al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, is tied to terrorism. But those claims are false. In reality, I suspect these groups are just angry because someone other than a non-fundamentalist Christian is reciting the prayer.

Here is the sum total of the Religious Right’s evidence against the imam: Two of the Sept. 11 hijackers briefly attended Dar al-Hijrah Islamic Center. That was in 2001, before Abdul-Malik even started working there.

Abdul-Malik has, in fact, been a vocal opponent of terrorism and appeared in ads and on news programs after the Sept. 11 attacks, condemning the terrorists.

Nevertheless, James Lafferty, chairman of the Virginia Anti-Shariah Task Force, insisted to The Washington Post, “He’s an apologist for people who commit criminal acts.” (By the way, I have to admit I was not aware that Virginia was considering adopting shariah – Islamic law – and that a task force is needed to stop it.)

Lafferty is the husband of Andrea Sheldon Lafferty, daughter of the Rev. Lou Sheldon. Sheldon founded the Traditional Values Coalition, one of the more extreme and distasteful Religious Right outfits roaming the country. This whole incident is just another example of intolerance from that clan.

Just to be clear, Americans United doesn’t think there should be any official prayers before government bodies. But the courts have allowed the practice under certain conditions, and Virginia is at least attempting to add some diversity to the mix. Constantly reciting Christian prayers is unconstitutional, and AU has won lawsuits challenging that practice.

AU doesn’t like state-sponsored prayer, but we also dislike religious bigotry. And that’s what this is. The talk of terrorism is a smokescreen. It’s an attempt to muddy the larger issue, which is the simple fact that some people in this country are absolutely intolerant of any religion other than their own. It’s highly ironic that many of these same folks constantly clamor for more religion in government – as long as it’s their faith, of course.

The Religious Right groups planned a rally outside the capitol in Richmond today. Five people showed up. The Richmond Times-Dispatch noted that the protestors were outnumbered by police.

The imam’s prayer was delivered at noon, and the commonwealth of Virginia still stands. We are left with little to do but wait for the next instance of manufactured outrage from the Religious Right.


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