Interfaith, Civic Leaders Condemn Councilman Choi's Remarks at Meeting
Irvine, CA: At Tuesday's Irvine City Council meeting, local interfaith and community leaders condemned Council member Stephen Choi's offensive remarks aimed at candidate Todd Gallinger. The leaders also expressed strong support for members of the Muslim community and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), articulated in a joint letter that was read at the council meeting.
The letter stated:
As interfaith and civic leaders working to promote social justice, harmony, and mutual understanding among all the people of Orange County, we strongly object to the divisive and defamatory rhetoric of Irvine Council Member Stephen Choi against the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Muslim community. We urge Council Member Choi to immediately apologize for his insulting comments and work toward mending rifts with the American Muslim community.
At an Irvine Chamber of Commerce candidate forum on September 19, Council Member Choi reportedly attacked another city council candidate, a Muslim attorney, for his work with CAIR -- which Choi described as “a dangerous and Islamic organization.”
Such offensive language serves to defame an upstanding American civil rights organization, suggests that there is an inherent problem with being Islamic, and incites fear and mistrust of members of the Muslim faith. It is immoral and un-American for any political candidate to score cheap political points by playing into the bigoted anti-Muslim paranoia in our country.
We have proudly worked with the local CAIR chapter over the past years. CAIR is an admirable organization that has served as a positive force, working with diverse community leaders and organizations to promote mutual understanding and dialogue, protect civil liberties, and defend liberty and justice for all people in America. CAIR works to raise awareness about Islam and Muslims and has continuously and courageously condemned all forms of terrorism and extremism.
By attacking CAIR, the Muslim community’s largest and most visible advocacy organization, Council Member Choi is alienating and defaming the entire Muslim community. Such rhetoric is also an attack on CAIR’s work and the work of interfaith and civic organizations such as ours. We strongly reject actions that seek to divide Americans along religious and racial lines.
Any person running for public office should remember our country’s founding principles of religious pluralism, tolerance and diversity that make America a free and open society.
We urge Council Member Choi to apologize to CAIR and the Muslim community for his offensive remarks and refrain from any future racially or religiously divisive comments.
We all owe it to our children to strive to keep Orange County and our country a harmonious place where we are all treated fairly and kindly.
Dae J. Yoon, Executive Director
Korean Resource Center
EunSook Lee, Executive Director
National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC)
Elder Pam Allison
Tustin Presbyterian Church
OC Steering Committee, Progressive Christians Uniting
Rev. Sarah Halverson
Fairview Community Church, Costa Mesa
Amin David, President
Los Amigos of Orange County
Craig Ishii, Regional Director
Japanese American Citizens League, Pacific Southwest District
Zeke Hernandez, President
Santa Ana - League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC # 147)
Rev. Dr. Paul Tellström
Irvine United Congregational Church, UCC
Dr. Rebecca B. Prichard, Pastor
Tustin Presbyterian Church
Rev. Wilfredo Benitez, Rector, St. Anselm of Canterbury, Garden Grove
President, Garden Grove, Westminster, Stanton Interfaith Council
Dr. Gary B. Collins, Pastor, St. Mark Presbyterian Church, Newport Beach
Federico C. Sayre, Attorney, Santa Ana
Ada F. Briceno, Secretary Treasurer
UNITE HERE Local 11, Garden Grove
NEWS ACCOUNTS: News accounts said Gallinger reported receiving a phoned death threat after being "smeared" by Choi's Islamophobic remarks, in which he allegedly attacked Gallinger's Muslim faith after an Irvine Chamber of Commerce candidate forum on September 19.
SEE: Muslim Candidate for Council Gets Death Threat
On Tuesday, supporters spoke out against Choi at the Council meeting. Among them was Federico C. Sayre, past president of the Hispanic Bar Association of Orange County, who has represented CAIR as an attorney. In a letter to Choi, Sayre said:
"I believe it is terribly inappropriate for a person such as Mr. Choi who in part symbolizes the great diversity of Irvine to bring such a discriminatory and anti-religious charge against a young man like Todd (Gallinger) and against a wonderful organization like the Council of American-Islamic Relations ...
"It has been my observation and knowledge from being around this excellent organization that they are dedicated to the protection of the civil rights of Muslims and all Americans and that none of their tenants in any way suggest any kind of adherence to terrorists or terrorist ideals."