Local Muslims urge Connecticut Tigers to ensure welcoming atmosphere at Dodd Stadium

Norwich — The leader of a state Muslim civil rights group and local residents hope to meet with Connecticut Tigers owner E. Miles Prentice regarding his position as chairman of a Washington, D.C., conservative think tank that promotes anti-Muslim positions and conspiracy theories.

Prentice is board chairman of the Center for Security Policy, founded in 1988 by a former Reagan administration official and listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-Muslim hate group.

The SPLC’s website says the Center for Security Policy “has gone from a respected hawkish think tank focused on foreign affairs to a conspiracy-oriented mouthpiece for the growing anti-Muslim movement in the United States.”

RELATED: Connecticut Tigers owner won't meet with Muslim group

Tark Richard Aouadi, executive director of the Connecticut chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, attended Wednesday’s Norwich Baseball Stadium Authority meeting, along with several local Muslims and Norwich residents expressing support for the city’s ethnic diversity and equality for all ethnic groups and religions.

Aouadi said he wants to meet with Prentice and other Tigers officials to ensure that the team and the city are not promoting hate and bigotry. Aouadi read a two-page statement to the authority, quoting several anti-Muslim statements made by the Center for Security Policy’s founder, Frank Gaffney, including that Muslims in America present an “even more insidious peril” than the communist fears of 50 years ago.

“In keeping with ideas and values of our republic,” Aouadi’s statement said, “we call on the mayor and city officials along with the management and owners of the team to come together and discuss this matter, the public safety concerns it may bring about and dialogue on the best practices to ensure a safe, healthy and inclusive environment for all local residents of Norwich wishing to enjoy America’s favorite pastime.”

Aouadi said prior to the meeting that the “individual beliefs” of Prentice or anyone else are not the group’s concern but he questioned whether Prentice’s supervisory role of the Tigers would affect the management of the team and the necessary welcoming atmosphere of the city-owned and -supported ballpark.

Swaranjit Singh Khalsa, a Norwich business owner, member of the Commission on the City Plan, a candidate for Norwich Board of Education and active with the Connecticut Sikh community, said he is certified as a cultural competency trainer and offered to provide training to the Tigers’ staff. Singh also told the authority and team representatives that Norwich has proven it is a welcoming community, with “welcome” signs in 24 languages posted outside City Hall and at the school central office.

Khalsa offered to donate a sign to the Tigers to post it on the front gate of Dodd Stadium.

Khalsa said he has supported the Tigers since they arrived in Norwich in 2010. As owner of the Shell gas station on West Town Street, near the entrance to the Norwich business park where the stadium is located, he hands out team schedules and urges customers to go to Tigers games.

“We understand what the Tigers mean to our community,” he said.

Halim Jones of North Stonington, who works in Norwich, said he is a 21-year retired military veteran and a Muslim. He said he wanted everyone to know that local Muslims live and work in the community, pay taxes and support the community. He called it “hurtful to me and my family” that the Tigers’ owner is affiliated with the Center for Security Policy.

Tigers Vice President C.J. Knudsen, who attended the meeting, said he had no comments on the request for a meeting with Prentice, who lives in Vermont. Asked about erecting a welcome sign, Knudsen said “we love signs.”

On Monday, three Democratic state legislators representing Norwich co-released a statement supporting a meeting between Prentice and the state chapter of Council on American-Islamic Relations.

“We agree that Mr. Prentice should meet with CAIR, as such a meeting and discussion would bring the two parties together and potentially lead to an amicable outcome,” the statement by state Sen. Cathy Osten and state Reps. Kevin Ryan and Emmett Riley said. “While Mr. Prentice is allowed to have his own political opinions, it is clear that the Center for Security Policy supports anti-Muslim rhetoric, something that risks the safety and security of many, especially today. We encourage Mr. Prentice and CAIR to attempt to work toward a better understanding between them.”

c.bessette@theday.com

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