Correction: This original article stated the Starbucks manager removed the patrons. It has been corrected to reflect the Hilton manager removed the customers and Houston Hilton Americas statement.
A group of former Muslims were removed from a Houston Hilton hotel on Saturday for wearing T-shirts stating, “I’m an Ex-Muslim, Ask Me Why.”
“You’re not allowed on the property,” the Hilton manager was filmed telling the paying customers, who are volunteers with the Ex-Muslims of North America (EXMNA). When the group pressed why they were being removed from the restaurant, the manager said, “You’re not allowed. You’ve got shirts right now.”
The volunteers were at a Starbucks inside the Hilton taking a coffee break after speaking with attendees and handing out flyers at the Islamic Society of North America’s annual conference in Houston, according to an EXMNA press release.
After removing the volunteers from the hotel, the Hilton manager threatened to call the police on the ex-Muslims if they tried to come back into the store.
“If you come on my property, you will be arrested for trespassing,” the manager said.
The Hilton manager appears to have conflated the ex-Muslim volunteers with a separate group of protesters and counter-protesters squaring off outside the conference.
“I was surprised,” one of the volunteers said. “I was simply drinking my iced coffee and scrolling through my phone, and they told me I needed to leave, so I asked why. I was told that they are not allowing protestors at the property, I assured the woman that I was not a protestor. She then asked me if I was part of the event or a guest at the hotel. I was neither.”
“I was then told that even though I was a paying customer, I was not allowed to be on the premise as it was reserved for guests and event members for the weekend and that they will not be allowing anyone else on their private property,” she continued. “However, I noticed the Starbucks was still open to the public and I didn’t see anyone else being asked to leave.”
Mohammad Syed, the president of Ex-Muslims of North America, said the incident was discrimination against the ex-Muslim volunteers.
“This appears to be a case of discrimination,” Syed said. “We were asked to leave the premises and informed that we could only enter the premises if we removed the shirts, none of which stated anything inflammatory. The treatment was unjust and especially cruel considering the plight of ex-Muslims. We are killed and abused all over the world for our disbelief.”
Hilton Houston Americas provided the following statement:
As a place of public accommodation, the Hilton Houston Americas does not discriminate against any individual or group. Our goal is to provide quality accommodations, and a safe and welcoming environment for all who visit our hotel.
On Saturday, September 1st, a large event and related protests occurred at the George R. Brown Convention Center, adjacent to our hotel. In an environment of heightened security, our team spoke with multiple protestors [sic] at the doors of and inside our hotel. Anyone who was not a confirmed guest was politely asked to leave the hotel.
We are concerned by claims made since by the Ex-Muslims of North America. Their group was initially welcomed to the hotel and purchased coffee at the outlet inside the hotel. They were approached by our team some time later as they began setting up camera equipment in the hotel lobby, and were asked to leave only after they confirmed that they were not hotel guests. The group left without incident, but returned 17 minutes later attempting to reenter the hotel.
We respect the right of all parties to express their points of view in a lawful and non-disruptive way. We reject any suggestion that the group’s religious beliefs (past or present) played a part in them being asked to leave our hotel. Our team’s focus was always on maintaining a safe and welcoming environment for our paying guests.
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