Hawaii already designates April 8 as Buddha Day and March 21 as Baha'i New Year's Day. Good Friday is even enshrined as an official state holiday, with public offices closed.
So state Rep. Lyla Berg thought that marking Sept. 24 as Islam Day would not be out of line in Hawaii, with its multicultural fabric. But her seemingly innocuous resolution has attracted worldwide attention -- and a flurry of phone calls and e-mails, including threats to boycott Hawaii.
Passed unanimously by the state House and overwhelmingly in the Senate on May 6, the resolution (House Concurrent Resolution 100, House Draft 1) recognizes the "rich religious, scientific, cultural and artistic contributions" of Islam and the Islamic world. It does not have the force of law. Congress passed a similar resolution on Oct. 15, 1979, honoring the 14th centennial of Islam.
But in the post-Sept. 11, 2001, era, Hawaii's move has touched some nerves. While Berg's office has received many positive calls and e-mails, she said, her staff has also been berated by an equal number, mostly from out of state.
"By acknowledging Islam, there's an assumption that means we support terrorists," said Berg (D, Hahaione Valley-Aina Haina), who introduced the resolution with Rep. Faye Hanohano (D, Pahoa-Kalapana). "I was hopeful we would have an opportunity to become more informed on what the religion is about and the people who are connected with it, so that we don't make the broad generalizations that are happening now."
Gov. Linda Lingle told a radio interviewer that her office had received "a lot of angry calls from the mainland saying, 'We're not coming to a place that's having an Islam Day.'"
"Here we are, in a very difficult economy, and it was just unnecessary," said Lingle, who had no authority over the resolution. "It didn't make any sense. You know it's going to get this kind of attention."
As of yesterday the Hawaii Tourism Authority had received 14 e-mails and one phone call protesting the resolution. "Hawaii has always been known to be a tolerant and respectful place," said Mike McCartney, HTA president, adding that his agency has no position on the resolution.
Sen. Josh Green (D, Milolii-Waimea), one of just three senators to oppose the resolution, said it violated the separation of church and state, a view shared by the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii.
Many articles making the rounds on the Internet decry legislators for singling out Islam alone for praise, but a review reveals that at least 10 days with religious overtones have been recognized by the Legislature.
Confucius Day and Islam Day were marked with resolutions, which do not become part of state law or recur annually. Others, such as Buddha Day, Hawaiian Makahiki Commemoration Day and Father Damien De Veuster Day, were recognized in bills that became law, although they are not state holidays. Christmas and Good Friday are official state holidays. (More)