CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) – The chairwoman of the Chesapeake school board is defending a Facebook picture she shared a month ago. Some in the Muslim community call it racist.
The post by School Board Chair Christie New Craig shows a skull with knives and a cartoon woman stating “Muslims hate pork, beer, dogs, bikinis, Jesus, and freedom of speech. My question is, what the hell do they come to America for?!”
“I merely shared it. I did not make a comment, and I’m just shocked with everything going on in our country – police officers are losing their lives, people are homeless and people don’t have jobs – that a political cartoon would cause this much stir,” Craig said.
Although she didn’t make herself available for an on camera interview, Craig did agree to a phone interview with 10 On Your Side’s Brandi Cummings Wednesday.
During the call Craig told Cummings she was exercising her right to free speech when she shared the photo. “People have a right to like or not like anything,” Craig said.
“I share posts all the time. I did not make a comment about this one. I share so many things and you know political cartoons that are probably not always correct,” Craig told Cummings.
“It is hurtful for me when I read it. When I read that paper, when I evaluate it, it is hurtful for me,” Muslim Herish Hussein said.
Hussein spoke to 10 On Your Side following an afternoon prayer service at the Islamic Center. “When she says, ‘My question is what the hell do they come to America for?’ I’m a PHD sudent. I’ve come to America for what? For science, for knowledge,” Hussein said.
During the phone interview Cummings asked Craig, “Do you support what’s in this post that you shared on your Facebook page?” Craig responded, “Oh no I don’t support a lot of stuff. I share stuff for information.” Cummings said, “I am talking about this post in particular.” To which Craig replied, “I just said no. Did you not hear me?” Cummings then asked, “No you don’t support the post, so tell me why it was important for you to share?” Craig replied, “I share a lot of stuff, a lot of jokes and whether I support it or not, I share stuff. [It] doesn’t mean I agree with it. It does mean I have a right to expression and free speech.”
The post was removed, but not before the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) asked the school board to address and investigate it.
According to a news release, CAIR sent a letter to board Vice Chairman C. Jeff Bunn and copied it to other board members, Superintendent Dr. James T. Roberts and the clerk of the board. CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper wrote to them in part:
The Chesapeake Public Schools Board’s silence on this issue will inevitably be viewed as acceptance and approval of anti-Muslim bigotry. We therefore formally request that the board take up this important issue at its next meeting on Monday, September 14. The board must send a message to students and parents of all faiths and backgrounds in the district and the state that they deserve equal respect and support.
Only by addressing this issue can the board uphold its stated commitment ‘to the principle of equal opportunity for all and does not permit discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, age, disability, military or veteran status, genetic information, or any other characteristic protected by applicable law.’
Craig told Cummings, “I’m not racist. I don’t look at people from the outside in. I look at them from the inside out but I’m also not going to be bullied or intimidated and have people try to take my freedom away from me.”
“If I offended someone, I am sorry that they were offended,” Craig said.
Christie Craig said she will “absolutely not” resign because of the controversy.
During her phone interview with Cummings Craig said she had people who support her. At Craig’s request several of them called Cummings and left messages.
Chesapeake Public Schools Public Information Officer Kellie Goral emailed the following to Cummings, “We do not have a statement at this time. If the School Board does issue a statement, we will release it immediately.”
According to her online profile Craig has been on the school board since 2010. She is currently Chief of Staff to Senator John Cosgrove. The Chesapeake Sheriff’s Office confirmed for WAVY.com that Craig worked as a deputy specialist from May 1990 to July 2002. A spokesperson said Craig resigned.