HARRISBURG - A Pittsburgh-area lawmaker who made inflammatory comments from the House floor about how Muslims do not believe in Jesus Christ defended the remarks today and insisted that they were taken out of context.
Nonetheless, Rep. Daryl Metcalfe's comments continued to draw rebukes, including from Gov. Rendell and a leader of a national Muslim group at the center of the controversy who called what he said a form of "extremism."
At issue are remarks Metcalfe made yesterday in opposing a resolution recognizing the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, a religious organization founded in 1889 that is holding its 60th annual national convention in Harrisburg this weekend.
"The Muslims do not recognize Jesus Christ as God, and I will be voting negative," said Metcalfe (R., Butler), one of the legislature's leading conservative voices, said yesterday from the House floor.
Metcalfe spent much of today conducting interviews in an attempt to fully explain his earlier words, and the media seized on them.
Metcalfe said he rose to oppose the resolution based on a passage in it that equated the group's spiritual leader, Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, with William Penn and his desire to "gain love and friendship by a kind, just and peaceable life and to establish a society that was godly, virtuous and exemplary for all of humanity."
"William Penn and the founding fathers believed that Jesus Christ is God, and Muslims do not," Metcalfe said today. "I just stated what was factual. You won't find a Muslim in the world that would say Jesus is God."
Metcalfe, 45, of Cranberry Township, north of Pittsburgh, was first elected to the House in 1998. He has gained notoriety in recent years for his staunch conservative stand on issues in Harrisburg, including becoming the legislature's most vocal anti-immigration advocate.
Metcalfe also said he challenged the resolution because most lawmakers were told about it only hours earlier and asked to cast a vote without the chance "to do due diligence."
"Nobody knew what this group was," he said.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community claims a membership of tens of millions in 189 countries worldwide.
In themselves, Metcalfe's comments were "a form of extremism," said Ahsan Zafar, the group's president. Yet, he tried to play down the remarks as an estimated 10,000 group members travel from all parts of the nation to Harrisburg a three-day national convention that starts tomorrow.
Asked about the floor remarks at an unrelated news conference, Rendell said he hadn't heard of them.
When told what Metcalfe said, Rendell, who is Jewish, responded: "I don't think I have agreed with anything Rep. Metcalfe said in the last three or four years, and that statement doesn't change anything."
"I don't agree with the statement . . . and I don't think many people take much of what Rep. Metcalfe says seriously," he added.
Passage of such "non-controversial" resolutions is typically perfunctory, without so much as a word of debate.
After Metcalfe's objections, the House postponed a vote on the resolution and sent it back to the State Government Committee.
Bill Patton, a spokesman for House Speaker Dennis O'Brien (R., Phila.) who drafted the resolution, said its future remains unclear. The House, which isn't returning to Harrisburg until Monday, could vote on it in coming days, but it would be after the national convention.
Despite the criticism, Metcalfe isn't offering any apologies
"I believe any American that is a Muslim has the same rights as anyone. We enjoy the same rights, and my right is to not vote on something that conflicts with my beliefs," he said. "I think anybody who is going to attack me because I have an objection to this are the intolerant ones."