NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Republican Ted Cruz's presidential campaign is rejecting a call to drop an anti-Shariah activist as his state chairman for Tennessee.
Kevin Kookogey, a former chairman of the Williamson County GOP, once criticized Republican Gov. Bill Haslam over the role of a Muslim staffer and a council that has advised two state departments on Islamic affairs.
He presided over the 2012 passage of a resolution that said the governor had extended "preferential political status to Shariah adherents in Tennessee, thereby aiding and abetting the advancement of an ideology and doctrine which is wholly incompatible with the Constitution of the United States and the Tennessee Constitution."
The Council on American-Islamic Relations urged Kookogey's removal as Cruz's Tennessee chairman, saying that keeping him in place would serve as what the group called "an endorsement of anti-Muslim hate."
Cruz spokeswoman Catherine Frazier in an email called it "completely absurd to assert that defending American law under the U.S. Constitution is anti-Muslim."
The Haslam administration at the time denied the allegations made in the Williamson County resolution and similar ones drafted in the state.
"There is no effort by the Haslam administration, the State of Tennessee, or any agency or department of the State to promote or advance Shariah law or Shariah compliant finance," the governor's then-deputy, Claude Ramsey, wrote in a letter to GOP leaders around the state.
Cruz, a U.S. senator from Texas, in a release praised Kookogey for his "experience and knowledge of both the landscape in Tennessee and the issues that matter to Tennesseans," and noted his leadership role on issues like "American sovereignty, defense, and religious liberty."
Kookogey had planned to mount a GOP primary challenge to U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander last year, but he abandoned that bid when he failed to consolidate tea party support.
Kookogey did not return a message seeking comment.
Worries about the spread of Shariah have surfaced in several states in recent years, often resulting in proposals to restrict the use of foreign law in state courts.
Opponents dismiss these bills as anti-Islamic fear-mongering, arguing that Shariah has never trumped U.S. state or federal law. But supporters say the legislation protects states' rights in an increasingly globalized world.