WASHINGTON - Brandishing signs and shouting slogans, a small group of radical Christian protesters repeatedly disrupted a Muslim rally, which was organised to seek religious tolerance, on the steps of the Texas legislature in Austin on Thursday, according to US media reports.  

State Representative Molly White, a Republican, did not attend but said that she had left an Israeli flag on her reception desk and instructed her staff to ask Muslims visiting her office ‘to renounce Islamic terrorist groups and publicly announce allegiance to America and our laws.’  

She added, ‘We will see how long they stay in my office.’  

Several hundred Muslims came to Austin for ‘Texas Muslim Capitol Day,’ hosted by the Texas chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), to learn about government and meet with lawmakers to discuss issues.  

The council responded to White's post by sending a note to House Speaker Joe Straus asking if she violated the chamber’s rules by discriminating against religious minorities. ‘Are House (of Representatives) members prohibited from making constituents take oaths before meeting with their elected representatives or house staff?’ the letter asks.

In a statement, Straus said only that all Capitol visitors should be treated respectfully, adding, ‘Anything else reflects poorly on the entire body and distracts from the very important work in front of us.’  

White's post followed a similar message she sent on Facebook via Right Wing News about the Texas Muslim community creating a private court to dispense Shariah law. Her posts quickly drew fire on social media, according to Yahoo News.  

‘You can't seriously be this clueless,’ Fatima Ahmed wrote on Facebook. ‘Not very 'Christian' of you.’ ‘Just like the extremist groups hiding under the Muslim label, it looks like we've got an extremist here hiding under the label of Christianity,’ Kelly Pfeiffer wrote. As the Council on American-Islamic Relations opened the gathering on the Capitol steps, protester Christine Weick, who had been posing as a participant, grabbed the microphone.   

Some 420,000 Muslims live in Texas, representing the eighth-largest Muslim population in the United States, according to the Texas Tribune.

Council Executive Director Mustafaa Carroll said that the event began in 2003 and never drew opposition before, but that online threats prompted the council to contact the FBI. FBI spokeswoman Michelle Lee wouldn’t confirm or deny their involvement, and there was a noticeable DPS and law-enforcement presence. Moreover, the Texas Department of Public Safety said no arrests were made at the event. ‘As soon as I got to the lectern, that woman came and grabbed the microphone out of my hands. It made us feel a little unsafe,’ said Ruth Nasrullah, a spokeswoman for the Houston branch of the Council of American-Islamic Relations, which helped arrange the event.

Some U.S. Islamic groups have reported stepped-up harassment since deadly attacks by Islamist gunmen at the offices of the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket in Paris this month. ‘This reinforces that rhetoric and propaganda about Muslims is really gaining traction,’ Nasrullah said.

The Texas Legislature was not in session on Thursday, but one lawmaker, Republican state Representative Molly White, wrote on her Facebook page that she had instructed staff members how to manage any person who came into her office from the rally. ‘Ask representatives from the Muslim community to renounce Islamic terrorist groups and publicly announce allegiance to America and our laws. We will see how long they stay in my office,’ she wrote. In neighboring Oklahoma, state Representative John Bennett, a Republican, spoke out in January against the Oklahoma chapter of a national Islamic organisation.