A fifth member has resigned from the state’s anti-discrimination panel amid controversy surrounding a fellow commissioner who is a Nation of Islam official.
Alan Spellberg, a deputy supervisor at the Cook County state’s attorney’s office, turned in his resignation letter Wednesday.
“Recent events have demonstrated to me that the commission’s ability to address issues of bias and discrimination has been damaged beyond repair,” Spellberg said in his letter.
Critics have asked Sister Claudette Marie Muhammad, the Nation of Islam’s chief of protocol, to renounce anti-Semitic and anti-gay remarks made by the organization’s leader, Louis Farrakhan. At a recent event, Farrakhan denounced “the wicked Jews, the false Jews” who promote “the filth of Hollywood,” including homosexuality.
Although Muhammad vowed to work toward the goals of the Commission on Discrimination and Hate Crimes, some state legislators were not satisfied.
On Tuesday, making a rare public statement at a Chicago radio station, Muhammad said she would not repudiate her minister’s comments.
“For those who try to condemn me because of the honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan’s remarks … which were perceived by some as anti-Semitic, it’s ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous,” Muhammad said on WVON-AM.
The governor appoints the commission’s members, and in this case, Gov. Rod Blagojevich said he did not know Muhammad was affiliated with the Nation of Islam when he made the appointment last August.
Blagojevich continued to stand by his appointee Wednesday.
“As I said before, I was very strong in my condemnation of what Farrakhan said,” he told the editorial board of the Peoria Journal Star. “But … I don’t believe in guilt by association. Everyone needs to be judged by their own words and actions and positions.
“Muhammad issued a statement that was very much consistent with the principles of the commission, where she talked about her belief in all religions faiths – Islam, Judaism, Christianity. And she talked about her sensitivity to gays and lesbians,” he said.
“And I just don’t think I should hold her accountable for what someone else said unless she subscribes to that view, and I have no reason to think she does.”
Several other high-ranking Illinois officials have weighed in on the evolving political drama.
Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who also sits on the commission, called on Blagojevich to resolve the issue immediately, and Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn said Tuesday that Muhammad should either repudiate Farrakhan’s comments or resign from the commission.
Muhammad’s failure to renounce Farrakhan’s anti-Semitic remarks “renders her unqualified to serve on this particular commission, which is designed to bring people together,” Quinn said.
The panel should disband if she does not quit, he said, adding: “If the commission itself has become dysfunctional, then it should be dissolved.”
Meanwhile, Illinois Senate President Emil Jones, D-Chicago, said Wednesday he is confident a resolution is on its way.
“It’s a very unfortunate situation that the governor has found himself in,” Jones said. “I’m quite sure reasonable minds can come together and resolve the issue.”
The 26-member commission has lost five members in the past week. Earlier, four Jewish members resigned, including a state lawmaker who had been appointed to fill one of the vacancies.
Ahmed Rehab, director of communications for the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said he has been following the disintegration of the commission and is perplexed about why there seems to be a “witch hunt on individuals like her if she hasn’t really said anything that’s contrary to the values of that commission.”
“I don’t think she should be called upon to resign,” Rehab said.
However, he added, people of other faiths should not assume that the Nation of Islam represents all Muslims. There are “major differences between the Nation of Islam and mainstream Muslims in terms of attitudes and beliefs,” Rehab said.
About two weeks ago, Rehab and other Chicago-area Muslims rallied against anti-Semitism at a Chicago synagogue that had been defaced with swastikas, he said.
“I’m trying to put things in context where, as much as I have zero tolerance for anti-Semitism, I don’t want to accuse someone of it when there’s no evidence for it,” Rehab said.
“I think the commission needs to find individuals willing to work for the purpose of the commission, setting aside community differences, political differences, and focus on the issue at hand that they were appointed for. That’s what needs to happen.”
Molly Parker of Copley News Service in Peoria and Adriana Colindres of the State Capitol Bureau contributed to this report. Jane Huh can be reached at 782-6883 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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