One of the religious leaders invited to address Barack Obama's inaugural prayer service Wednesday heads an Islamic group named by federal prosecutors as a co-conspirator in a terrorism-fundraising trial in Texas.
Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of North America, is scheduled to join Christian ministers and Jewish rabbis offering prayers for the new president and his family during a service at the National Cathedral in Washington, organizers announced Friday.
Mattson's group calls itself "the largest Muslim umbrella organization" in North America. However, in May 2007, federal prosecutors included ISNA on a list of nearly 300 co-conspirators filed in a criminal case charging that the Holy Land Foundation of Richardson, Texas, funneled more than $12 million to Hamas.
The U.S. government designated Hamas as a terrorist group in 1995.
A trial in Dallas in 2007 for the foundation and five of its leaders ended with acquittals and mistrials. However, Holy Land and the five officials were convicted of all 108 charges in a second trial last year.
A spokeswoman for the inaugural, Linda Douglass, hailed Ms. Mattson as "a widely respected faith leader with a stellar reputation."
"We are delighted to have her as part of a program that is inclusive, welcomes people of all faiths and is consistent with the president elect's message of unity," the spokeswoman told Politico Friday. "All of these are people who preach tolerance."
Ms. Douglass noted that Ms. Mattson appeared with little controversy at an interfaith service prior to the Democratic National Convention in Denver last August. However, that appearance came prior to the jury's guilty verdicts in November affirming the existence of the conspiracy to aid Hamas. Mattson's group, ISNA, was never named as a defendant in the Holy Land case. Jurors were not asked to determine what role, if any, ISNA played in aid of Hamas.
Indeed, leaders of ISNA and two other Islamic groups have complained bitterly that being included on the list of co-conspirators sullied their reputations and violated Justice Department regulations. Last year, ISNA and a related organization, the North American Islamic Trust, filed a motion asking a judge to strike the list and rebuke the prosecution for filing it. The groups, which have not been charged with a crime, called the public filing a "smear."
The court has not ruled on the groups' motion, but in a brief filed last July, federal prosecutor James Jacks said there was ample evidence of the Islamic groups' ties to the Holy Land Foundation.
"During last year's trial, numerous exhibits were entered into evidence establishing both ISNA's and NAIT's intimate relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood, the Palestine Committee, and the defendants in this case," Mr. Jacks wrote . "They were intimately connected with the HLF and its assigned task of providing financial support to HAMAS. ... That ISNA and NAIT appeared in these documents and share a common history with these defendants is a reflection of the evidence, not any attempt to 'disparage' or 'vilify.'"
Lawyers representing ISNA complained that the direct evidence about their group was from 1991 or earlier and that the organization had no forum in which to challenge the proof. Mattson became vice president of ISNA in 2001 and president in 2006.
Mattson, who did not respond to messages seeking comment for this article, is the first female president of ISNA and a professor of Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations at the Hartford Seminary in Connecticut.
Ms. Douglass also defended the invitation to the prayer service by pointing to Ms. Mattson's history. "She has met with people in the Bush Administration over the years: Secretary of State Condi Rice, Karen Hughes, Alberto Gonzales," the spokeswoman said.
However, most of those encounters took place prior to the Justice Department's public filing alleging that ISNA took part in a pro-Hamas conspiracy. In June 2007, weeks after the list was filed, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales backed out of an outreach event a top ISNA official was to attend. Still, Hughes apparently attended an ISNA dinner in her honor in June 2008, after she left her State Department post. The divergent treatment suggests that officials at the Justice Department, the State Department and the White House may have disagreed about how to deal with the Islamic group.
Jacks and a Justice Department spokesman, Dean Boyd, declined to comment Friday on the invite to Mattson.
According to a statement from the Presidential Inaugural Committee, Mattson is among eight religious leaders slated to give "responsive prayers [that] symbolize America's traditions of religious tolerance and freedom." Others on that list include Rev. Jim Wallis of Washington, D.C., Rabbi Haskel Lookstein of New York, and a minister who married President Bush's daughter Jenna, but supported Mr. Obama's presidential campaign, Pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell of Houston.
Reverend Sharon Watkins, general minister and president of Disciples of Christ, will deliver the sermon at Wednesday's church service. Greek Orthodox and Hindu leaders are among about 20 religious leaders expected to play some part in the event.
In a letter to the New York Times last May, Mattson argued that, under Islamic law, Obama's Christian faith does not render him an apostate, or someone who renounced his religion, because he was never a Muslim to begin with.
Some Jewish groups, such as the World Jewish Congress and the Union of Reform Judaism, have exchanged speakers with ISNA, but many shun the Muslim group.