Despite outrage from the local Muslim community, a Frankfort Township official did not apologize Wednesday for circulating an e-mail with anti-Islamic sentiments.
"The e-mail's basic message was that people coming to this country should adapt," Township Assessor Paul Ruff said in a statement. "This wasn't a hateful e-mail, but one that touched upon a sentiment in this country and around the world that immigrants have to adapt to their new homes."
Statements in the e-mail were attributed to former Australian Prime Minister John Howard, who a few years ago ignited controversy with criticism of Islam and statements asserting that immigrants need to adapt to their new country.
Ruff said he did not write the content of the e-mail, and its origins were unknown.
The flap has drawn the ire of the Council on American-Islamic Relations of Chicago and members of a mosque in Frankfort, prompting residents and religious leaders to hold a town hall meeting last week to discuss discrimination against Muslims. Ruff did not attend the meeting.
"It's kind of a shock," Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the council, said Wednesday. "Clearly this is offensive behavior on behalf of a public official."
Ruff held a news conference at the township hall to defend himself against critics of the e-mail, which he acknowledges forwarding in June to people he knew.
Two Will County sheriff's deputies were present at the township hall in case of a disturbance. Before Ruff spoke, officials distributed copies of letters to the editor from a local newspaper and played audio recordings of voice-mail messages from people who agree with Ruff.
Among the voice-mail messages were statements such as: "Thank you for standing up for our way of life" and "It's about time someone had the you-know-what to speak up."
Rehab criticized Ruff's use of the township hall for his news conference and was frustrated by the distribution of letters to the editor.
"If we were unhappy with his behavior before, this is even worse," he said. "He can't keep hiding behind somebody else's name and passing out material that is hateful to support his perspective."
Ruff said he is not a bigot or a racist, noting he has black and Hispanic neighbors. However, he did reiterate sentiments in the e-mail that denounced Islam and said the religion "institutionalizes discrimination against women and non-Muslims."
Tariq Khan, a board trustee for the American Islamic Association, which operates the Frankfort mosque, said he believes Ruff's response will further strain relations with the Muslim community.
"It's unfortunate that he's been so stubborn in not apologizing," said Khan, who arrived at the township hall moments after the news conference ended. "It's time to move on. He is a fine public servant, but I feel he made an error in judgment. "
Ruff said he was being smeared by people angry about their property assessments.
Phyllis Leonardo, 75, of Beecher said she came to support Ruff after seeing criticism of him in the newspaper.
"They're trying to change our way of living," she said. "Why are we selling our country out?"