MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — One day ahead of President Barack Obama’s final State of the Union address, Rep. Keith Ellison is asking members of Congress to bring a Muslim as their guest.
Ellison is the first Muslim elected to Congress. He says his letter is a response to what he calls “hateful rhetoric” against Muslims in the U.S.
“This is a way to say: Not on our watch,” he said.
The letter from Ellison and Democratic Party Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz is asking every member of Congress to invite a Muslim to the president’s address in a stand against hate.
“This rhetoric and these actions are simply un-American,” the letter reads. “They undermine our values and weaken our ability to be a force for good around the world.”
Ellison was motivated by what he says is a rise in anti-Muslim rhetoric in the presidential campaign, specifically citing Republican candidates Ted Cruz, Ben Carson and Donald Trump.
“We’re not going to sit here and let people spout hateful stuff about any group,” he said.
Anti-Muslim rhetoric in the U.S. ramped up after the terror attacks in San Bernardino and Paris.
Trump called for a temporary ban on all Muslims entering the United States.
Twenty members of Congress have signed on to Ellison’s letter, including Democratic Sen. Al Franken.
He invited Abdirahman Kahin, the Somali owner of Afro Deli in Minneapolis.
Ellison’s guest is his son, Elijah, a U.S. Army medic whom the Congressman says symbolizes other Muslims serving in the Armed Forces.
“Technically, he’s a relative,” Ellison said, “but the real reason he is there is because he is an active duty military, defending and protecting our country every day, putting his life on the line to protect ours.”
The inviting of guests to the State of the Union address is a recent Washington D.C. tradition, often used to make a political statement.
Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan’s guests will highlight his anti-poverty proposals.
And the president is leaving an empty chair in the balcony to symbolize the victims of gun violence.