The problem is with the cleric chosen. Omar Suleiman is a conservative imam who has a history of spewing hatred toward Israel and who holds views about gays and women that would spark outrage on the left if they came from a preacher of any other faith.
Suleiman is the founder and president of the Irving, Texas-based Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research. U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, invited him to give Thursday's invocation, a Yaqeen Institute statement said.
Suleiman's honor of giving the invocation was touted by Zahra Billoo, a California chapter director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and among the most rabid Israel haters among CAIR's stable of Israel haters.
"We pray for peace, not war," he said. "Love not hate. Benevolence, not greed. Unity, not division. And we commit ourselves to not betraying our prayers with actions that contradict them. Let us be for truth, no matter who, or for is against it."
Love, not hate. Unity, not division. Here are some examples of Suleiman doing anything but advancing those ideals.
In an August 2014 Facebook post, Suleiman seemed to side with Hamas in denying that the terrorist group uses human shields in an attempt to stop the Israeli military from retaliating against rocket fire sent from Gaza into Israeli civilian communities.
There is evidence dating back years to prove the practice takes place. And a Hamas official openly admitted the practice more than a month before Suleiman's post. "The fact that people are willing to sacrifice themselves against Israeli warplanes in order to protect their homes, I believe this strategy is proving itself," said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri.
- As author Andrew Bostom points out, Suleiman also described Zionists as "the enemies of God, His Messengers, sincere followers of all religions, and humanity as a whole" in a 2014 Facebook post.
- Suleiman spoke at a 2017 rally outside the White House protesting the U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and move the U.S. embassy there. The rally was organized by American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), a group which seeks "to challenge the legitimacy of the State of Israel" and is tied to a defunct Hamas-support network in the United States.
In his remarks Suleiman rejected any Jewish claim to Jerusalem:
"Your recognition means nothing to us," he said. "Your maps mean nothing to us, your embassy is as illegitimate as the occupation it seeks to legitimize. Our land is our land, our dignity is our dignity. Our determination is our determination. Our boycott is our boycott. Our Aqsa [the holy mosque in Jerusalem] is our Aqsa. Our Palestine is our Palestine."
- Palestinians have rejected at least three peace offers which would have created a state of their own. But in a 2014 post, Suleiman rejected any Palestinian responsibility for the conflict, invoking anti-Israel academic Noam Chomsky. It is not clear whether his reference to occupation dates back to the 1967 war, or Israel's creation in 1948.
- Suleiman also pushed the anti-Semitic trope that Israel controls American foreign policy, sneering that it is the "51st state."
On social issues, Suleiman's conservative religious views stand in sharp contrast to the progressive ideas championed by most members of the House Democratic Caucus. The Middle East Forum put together several examples in a 2017 video. Two indicate a sexist attitude.
- Warning girls about the dangers of promiscuity, Suleiman compared Allah to an over-protective father.
"And Allah doesn't just own 20 guns. Allah owns hellfire," he said. "So you'd better be careful. You're overstepping your bounds. Sisters ... you know what happens with a really jealous Dad? He kills you and he kills the guy. So you are offending Allah ... whenever you make yourself promiscuous or whenever you open yourself up to a relationship."
- In addition, boys and girls cannot be friends because of ever-present sexual temptation.
"See all the guys know it. You guys know this. Right? You can make this up and you can try to fool yourself or fool someone else. But girls, trust me. We're men. We're not going to lie to you. Guys and girls cannot be friends, unless you guys have been neutered ... you cannot be friends."
- Suleiman compared gays and lesbians to people who engage in incest and bestiality. They deserve to be treated well even though they engage in "an act of sexual deviance," he said.
"... We believe it's wrong. It's obviously harmful to society. Obviously it's not natural, because of human reproduction and all the diseases and things of that sort that come as a result. But, if someone is a homosexual, they're not a, it's not, you know what's worse, homosexuality or saying Allah has a son? You see we still treat people who say Allah has a son with goodness, and we should. We should be kind and courteous and try to help them with that wrong idea or that wrong practice. Now what if someone says, 'But what if someone is born that way, what if someone is a homosexual and they can't help that?' Then we would say that not every impulse is to be acted upon. OK? We don't allow bestiality. We don't allow incest."
Imagine the blowback if a Republican House member invited a Christian preacher who uttered the same ideas. You don't have to. Liberal groups were outraged when President Obama asked Pastor Rick Warren to deliver an invocation at his 2009 inaugural.
When California Pastor Greg Laurie was named a co-chair of the 2013 National Day of Prayer, the Human Rights Campaign protested, saying his "message is out of step with what the majority of people of faith across this country believe."
The examples above show the same thing can be said about Suleiman.