Republican Gov. Greg Abbott said Friday that "we must have civil discourse" after a freshman Texas lawmaker instructed her staff to ask Muslims who were visiting the state Capitol to declare their allegiance to America.
Abbott did not specifically mention Republican state Rep. Molly White, who drew criticism Thursday after she put an Israeli flag in her Capitol office and telling aides they should ask Muslims to renounce Islamic terrorist groups.
"We must have civil, open debate of hotly contested issues in this state. Texas values are strong enough that we can have a civil discourse about issues like this," Abbott said.
White publicized her plans on Facebook before hundreds of Muslims arrived at the Capitol for their biennial lobbying day, but she was not in the building on Thursday.
Abbott said Texas values are "strong enough to have an open debate" when asked about White's actions.
Ten days into office, Abbott met with reporters after speaking at a Texas Veterans of Foreign Wars Convention in Austin. He received a raucous and warm welcome from veterans to end a sometimes rocky week for Texas Republicans over missteps of their own doing.
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The Muslim rally at the Capitol on Thursday coincided with a meeting between supporters of open-carry gun laws and aides to new Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. The powerful Senate leader surprised conservatives this week when he said there may not be the votes to legalize open carry in Texas, an issue that many Republicans believed was a slam-dunk this session.
The Muslim rally attracted a small but vocal group of protesters, and organizers with the Council on American-Islamic relations said it was the first time the decade-old event drew opposition.
White told supporters on Facebook about the Israeli flag and instructions she left for her staff if Muslims stopped by.
"We will see how long they stay in my office," White posted.
Republican House Speaker Joe Straus sharply rebuked White without using her name. He said in a statement that legislators have a responsibility to treat visitors with "dignity and respect" and that anything else "reflects poorly" on his 150-member chamber.