For one city alderman in Wisconsin, it's perfectly appropriate to respond to a constituent question about city transit on Election Day by asking the constituent to condemn radical Islam, Sharia law and the Islamist group Hamas.
Earlier this week, Green Bay resident Heba Mohammad emailed Alderman Chris Wery inquiring about whether he could help the city provide free transit to help voters get to the polls on Nov. 4.
“I hate to think that those who cannot afford an extra bus ticket will be unable to vote because of their income status,” Mohammad said in her email, noting that the city buses are free, among other times, on days when the Green Bay Packers play at Lambeau Field.
Wery responded that he would look into the matter, but then things took a more pointed tone. He asked if Mohammad was the founder of the Muslim Student Association at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, from which she had recently graduated.
"I just want to be assured that your group in no way promotes or defends militant Islamic ideology or Sharia law. Do you and the MSA condemn both of those as well as terrorist groups such as Hamas?” Wery said.
In her response, Mohammad confirmed that she was indeed the founder of the MSA at her alma mater, but said she didn’t understand why it was important.
After a few emails back and forth, Mohammad posted her exchange with Wery to Facebook. In an interview with the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Mohammad said she believed Wery developed an “instant suspicion” towards her based on her name.
"That's kind of hurtful, to be honest," she said.
Over the course of the week, the story spread on social media and many called for Wery's resignation.
Clown of the Week: Green Bay Alderman Chris Wery
— (^_^) (@Chzredd) October 22, 2014
— Nancy (@NanWigs) October 21, 2014
— Emily Mills (@millbot) October 21, 2014
Wery eventually apologized for his "blunt" tone, and followed up about the bus issue. But he insisted that his questions were legitimate.
As criticism continued to mount, Wery responded Wednesday with a statement to the Press-Gazette saying that he would not step down and that he thought his line of questioning to Mohammad was legitimate.
"I believe in both freedom of religion and freedom of speech ... Being elected does not mean I lose my freedom of speech," Wery told the paper.
City Council President Tom DeWane told the Press-Gazette on Wednesday that the way Wery questioned Mohammed was unfortunate, but said he wouldn’t push for resignation or discipline by the council.
Mohammad posted a Facebook album exhibiting screenshots of her conversation with Wery, noting that she wanted to post their entire exchange in order to be transparent.
“In an effort to be fair to Mr. Wery, I want to make sure I share everything. I recently received this email from him," Mohammad said. "I'm happy he followed up on my original concern and that he's willing to learn about MSA."