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McMahan ‘blown away’ by controversy

First of all, Rep. Lois McMahan, R-Olalla, said she did not “walk out” during a prayer given before the House of Representatives Monday morning by a Muslim cleric.

“I walked out of the chambers right after the flag salute to get a drink of water, and when I got back, I chose to stand (outside the door) to wait for the gentleman to finish,” McMahan. “I wouldn’t disturb someone’s prayer — it didn’t happen that way.”

McMahan said she respects everyone’s beliefs and their right to have them, and that the storm of controversy surrounding her decision to do what she described as not participating in the prayer, but not being rude to the speaker, took her completely by surprise.

“It’s blown me out of the water,” McMahan said. “At the time it happened, as far as I was concerned, it was nothing.”

The Seattle Post-Intelligen-cer’s front-page story Tuesday morning described McMahan and Rep. Gary Condotta, R-Wenatchee, as stepping off the chamber floor when the prayer began. In the hours and days that followed, local television stations and even The New York Times picked up the story.

McMahan said the P-I reporter “caught me off-guard” when McMahan described her action as “an issue of patriotism,” though she admitted later she does feel that “Islamic leaders in this country have not been vocal enough in condemning the actions of Sept. 11.”

McMahan quickly released a statement denouncing the P-I’s story and others that described her actions as walking out in protest during the prayer as “categorically false.” She offered a public apology after the opening of the legislative session Wednesday.

“I want to make it clear that it was not my intention to offend anyone by my actions or words,” McMahan said. “Specifically, I want to state that it was not my intention to slight or show any ill will toward Imam Mohamad Joban or any other American member of the Islamic faith, whose members I’m sure enjoy the freedom and opportunity of this country as much as I do.”

Joban has reportedly invited McMahan to his Islamic Center in Olympia. McMahan responded to that report in her apology Wednesday.

“If in fact this is true, I intend to accept (Joban’s) gracious invitation,” McMahan told her fellow representatives. “At that time I will personally deliver to him my apology for any offense he may have experienced.”

When asked if she would have done the same thing all over again, given the storm of controversy surrounding her decision Monday, McMahan said she would — with one change.

“I would probably go out for a drink of water again,” McMahan said. “But I might not talk to that reporter again.”

However, earlier in the week McMahan was reportedly still deciding whether to remain on the floor when Joban returned to give another prayer Friday morning, though previously she stated she would not participate.

McMahan is a conservative Christian who attends Olalla’s Family Bible Church, where her husband is pastor.

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