Spectators who lined the July 4 route through downtown were treated to a wide variety of sights and sounds, among the approximately 110 entrants in Round Rock Sertoma Club’s annual Independence Day parade.
They saw soldiers in uniform, combat veterans on motorcycles and roller derby women on skates.
They saw kids on bicycles and on horseback, Star Wars characters and men driving vintage cars.
They saw floats full of Republicans, Democrats and Vacation Bible Schoolers. They saw tumbling gymnasts, beauty queens in their tiaras and a high school marching band – plus Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, martial artists, Masons and the Knights of Columbus.
They saw Maggie Moo and Uncle Sam.
What they did not see, however, was an entry from Bait-ul-Muqeet Mosque. Representatives from the Deepwood Drive house of worship had their parade application denied, with a Sertoma Club organizer citing what he called “safety reasons.”
Members of the mosque said they don’t know why their presence in a July 4 parade would be considered disruptive.
“We as a group feel we were denied an opportunity,” Yasir Mirza said one day before the July 4 parade. “We as Muslims feel we should be loyal to our country.”
“I’m the one they approached,” said Will Williams, who’s been in charge of organizing the Sertoma Club’s July 4 parade for the past several years. “They had questions about why they were disapproved. They thought it was because they were Muslims. They were denied for safety reasons.”
In separate interviews with the Leader, Mirza and Williams each agreed representatives from the mosque did not immediately have a copy or other representation of the banner they would be carrying, to be turned in with their application.
“They said it would say [something like] ‘Muslims are peaceful and you should honor Muslims,’ Williams said in a July 3 interview. “It was all about Muslims. It isn’t what the July 4 parade is all about. I don’t want a controversy to ruin what we have worked so hard for.”
Via email, Mirza provided the Leader with photographs of what he said would have been the two actual banners that would have been carried – had discussions with Sertoma gotten that far.
One banner, decorated with a picture of an American flag, reads: “Muslims for Loyalty. Love for all – Hatred for none.”
The other banner attributes a quote to the prophet Muhammad: “Love of one’s country of residence is part of faith.”
Mirza said he wants to stress he did not contact the Leader about the parade issue – the Leader contacted him.
Mirza then supplied electronic correspondence, between himself and Williams.
A June 14 Gmail from Williams to Mirza reads as follows: “Sir due to some safety issues for your group, and others I have given this a lot of thought and I have denied your app I would be happy to help you develop a relationship with the community of all Round Rock and we can talk about this for next year’s event. If you would like to talk more feel free to call me.”
Mirza wrote back: “Can you explain the safety issues?”
Williams responded: “There is a lot of talk, of what people would do at the parade as the Chairman of the Parade, SAFETY IS FIRST, I understand what you want but I [have] got to think of everyone. Please put yourself in my place.”
On July 1, Richard Ehrlich – a Vietnam veteran and former Round Rock resident – contacted the Leader, stating there was a rumor making the rounds.
The rumor, Ehrlich said, was that “a Muslim group” had been denied entry into the parade because they wanted to carry a banner promoting “jihad.” The word literally means “struggle,” but in the context of 21st century events often refers to “holy war” waged on behalf of Islam.
The rumor, Ehrlich said, was that the “Muslim group” might make trouble for a parade entry consisting of Gold Star Mothers who had lost children in combat.
Ehrlich said his first reaction was: “Over my dead body.”
But then Ehrlich – who served as a Green Beret – said maybe the fears were part of an inaccurate rumor mill.
“Maybe these are good Muslims trying to show their support for our country,” he said.
In any event, Ehrlich said, he and other members of the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association would be out in force at the July 4 parade, protecting the Gold Star Mothers.
The CVMA has an annual parade presence, Ehrlich said, but this year’s would be bigger. He said the show of support for Gold Star Mothers would be similar to what CVMA provides at military funerals.
Cindy Blankenship – a Round Rock Sertoman who has three children currently serving in the Army – said she, too was aware of the rumors and CVMA’s reaction.
“Everything that is going on is just proactive, to discourage anything that is acting out or is harmful to our military moms,” Blankenship said July 2.
On July 3, Round Rock Police Chief Tim Ryle said he had not received any reports of potential trouble at the July 4 parade.
Wait until next year?
As the sun peeked in and out of clouds last Thursday morning – reminding everyone that this is Texas in July – the parade went off without disruption.
A contingent of about 50 motorcycle riders followed the Gold Star and Blue Star Mothers’ parade entries. A banner, carried among the contingent, read: “All gave some, some gave all.”
Williams said all told, the more than 100 groups represented in the parade had about 2,000 individual participants.
“I denied 26 entries in the parade this year,” he noted during a telephone interview the day before the event. For example, Williams said he denied parade applications from groups on both sides of the abortion issue.
“This is not a political battleground,” Williams said. “This is not a religious battleground.”
That said: The parade included one group of women – Moms Across America – handing out literature in opposition to genetically modified food.
Another man, dressed in a Knights of Columbus uniform and riding an electric scooter, wove in and out of the parade route. On the back of his scooter was a sticker that read: “U Can’t B Both Catholic and Pro Choice.”
In his electronic correspondence with Mirza, Williams suggested members of the Deepwood Drive mosque “have got to get better known in the community.”
But Mirza said that’s why they wanted to enter the parade in the first place.
“We want to have a positive relationship with the community of Round Rock,” Mirza said.
Mirza said it’s painful to think members of his faith are being singled out to prove their loyalty.
“Muslims are as faithful to their country as any other religion,” said Nasira Khan, from Bait-ul-Muqeet Mosque.
“I forgive people,” she said. “They don’t know any better.”