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Posted on Wed, Jan 12, 2011 : 8:12 a.m.

Local community responds to hate by celebrating religious freedom day

By Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice

This year, many in Ann Arbor will celebrate our local religious diversity and freedom through community service, discussion, and learning about other faiths as they mark Religious Freedom Day on Jan. 16. While these activities affirm respect and inclusion, they come in response to bigotry and harassment.

When Bryan Weinert saw the growing anti-Muslim sentiment in September of last year, including the stabbing of a New York cab driver for being Muslim, vandalism of mosques and a burnt Qur’an left outside a mosque in East Lansing, he felt that it was important for the community to respond.

Weinert, who serves as the board president for the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice (ICPJ), explains, “I saw the hatred, the animosity and the violence, and I thought, ‘This isn’t how we should be treating members of our community.’” So ICPJ began working with local faith leaders, the Ann Arbor City Council and others to respond to the anti-Muslim activities and promote a community that welcomes and respects all.

Leslie Stambaugh of Ann Arbor’s Human Rights Commission was one of the people involved. “ICPJ came to us with a proposed city council resolution affirming that we strive to be a community with respect for all people, and my question was, ‘How do we operationalize this? How do we make sure it has an impact outside city hall?’ That’s when the idea of Religious Freedom Day came up.”

“Religious Freedom Day is a day to remember the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedoms, which was a key inspiration for parts of the first amendment,” explains Carsten Hohnke, the city council member who introduced the resolution affirming religious freedom.

“At a time when some members of our community were to feel unsafe because of their faith and beliefs, Religious Freedom Day reinforced that this community and our nation has always valued the right of people to practice their religion, or not practice any religion at all.”

According to eorge Lambrides of the Interfaith Round Table of Washtenaw County, “We wanted to create a range of events and experiences. On Sunday, Jan. 16, for example, we’re hosting a ‘Living Library’ event from 1-3 p.m. at Temple Beth Emeth/St. Clare Episcopal Church, where participants can ‘check out’ representatives from different faiths to learn about those spiritual traditions. On Saturday the 15th, we’re working with Habitat for Humanity for an interfaith day of community service, because sometimes the best way to get to know someone from a different faith or background is not to talk to them, but to work with them to help the greater community.”

“The Living Library and the day of service are opportunities for us to better understand each other and the religious diversity in our community,” Lambrides continues. “We also wanted a chance to take on the challenges we still face as a country living up to the ideals of religious freedom and respect. So on Thursday, Jan. 13, there will be a panel at the Ann Arbor District Library main branch at 7 p.m. titled, ‘Can I Get Some Respect? Flashpoints and Controversies On Religious Freedom.’”

One of the panelists, Rev. Robert Keefer, co-pastor of Crossroads Tabernacle Church, a Wiccan community, sees today’s challenges of religious freedom as continuation of a process that goes back to our nation’s founding, “The conversation on faith and the personal search for meaning in our country is one that began with the landing at Plymouth Rock, and continues to this very day. Now, in this increasingly pluralistic country, more voices have joined the conversation than ever before. Our challenge as a nation is to listen to voices, to celebrate their differences while recognizing that our strength as Americans comes not from any answers that we may hope will come to light, but from the conversation itself.”

One of the panelists, Rabbi Rob Dobrusin of Beth Israel Congregation, explained the importance of the issue saying, “The ideal of religious freedom is critical for our nation and it is imperative upon all of us that we seek to build a community which respects the rights of individuals to gather in worship as they choose — or to not do so if that is their choice. We must recognize that our houses of worships and religious communities are ‘homes’ to many of our citizens and that people have a right to feel as safe and secure in their places of worship and religious communities as they do in their own homes. It is our responsibility as well as leaders of religious communities to contribute to the sense of peace and harmony in our greater community while serving the needs of our congregants.”

Weinert said he’s happy to see the response. “We’ve seen a few extremists promote a message of hate and intolerance, and these few people have done tremendous damage. It’s great to see the community come together to heal that damage and promote a vision of respect and inclusion.”


Religious Freedom Day Events

“Can I Get Some Respect? Flashpoints and Controversies On Religious Freedom.”

Thursday, Jan. 13, 7 p.m.-Our nation’s founding documents put forth a vision of the United States as a place for religious freedom, tolerance, and respect. Today, we still strive to live up to that ideal. In September 2010, Ann Arbor City Council passed a resolution to “affirm its commitment to the full rights and dignity for people of all religions and those who are nonreligious” and to encourage “community members and organizations to participate in Religious Freedom Day activities on the weekend of Jan. 16, 2011, as a time to learn about different faith traditions and to foster respect for religious diversity.” Councilmember Carsten Hohnke will be joined by a panel including Rev. Sue Sprowls of Lord of Light Lutheran Church, Rabbi Rob Dobrusin of Beth Israel Congregation, Imam Dawud Walid of the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Michigan, Rev. Robert Keefer of Crossroads Tabernacle Church (Wiccan) and Mary Beijan of the ACLU. Panelists will discuss the current challenges of living up to the ideal of religious tolerance, respect and freedom. The event is sponsored by the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice, the Interfaith Round Table of Washtenaw County and the Ann Arbor District Library. Location: Ann Arbor District Library Multipurpose Room, 343 S. Fifth Ave., Ann Arbor. Details: Chuck Warpehoski,, 734-663-1870.


Let’s Re-Build Something Together: Interfaith Day of Service

Saturday, Jan. 15, 8 a.m. or noon - How often have we had the chance to work side by side with someone and learned things about that person that we didn’t know before? Shared projects also produce conversations and interactions that can go far beyond “learning about each other.” Imagine what else we learn or come to appreciate in the process. As part of our local observance of Religious Freedom Day, The Interfaith Round Table of Washtenaw County and The Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice together are sponsoring an Interfaith Service Project in support of Habitat for Humanity with the goal of “working side by side” with people from different religious backgrounds. We are inviting Friends, Baha’is, Jews, Hindus, Christians, Muslims, Unitarian Universalists, Interfaiths, Unity, Buddhists, Scientologists and secularists (just for starters). Come and help get a Habitat for Humanity house ready for renovation. Registration closed. For more details: call or email George Lambrides at 734-424-1535 or


“Local Residents Sharing Global Religions”

Sunday, Jan. 16, (1-3 p.m.) - Ever wonder what your neighbors believe or don’t believe? Ever been curious about how they practice their traditions? Ever thought about all the ways that people around you cultivate spirituality in their lives? Now is your chance to find out! Come to the Living Library and borrow a living, breathing “book” and learn about religious diversity in our town. Families, adults, students and children are all welcome. Persons from 15-20 different religious traditions / perspectives will be ready to “be checked out” for a fifteen to thirty minute quick read of their story and religion, after which you will have the chance to check out a number of other “books.” It will be fun. It will be informative. And it will be engaging. This event is part of the Religious Freedom Day weekend sponsored by the Interfaith Round Table of Washtenaw County and the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice. Location: Temple Beth Emeth/St. Clare’s Episcopal Church of Ann Arbor, 2309 Packard Road (no charge), refreshments available. More details: call George Lambrides at 734-424-1535 or Lauren Zinn at 734-996-3524 or email


Preach and Teach About Religious Freedom

Bring the message of religious freedom for all into your home congregation or community group. Include a call to respect religious freedom for people of all faiths (including the nonreligious) in your faith or community group’s activities near Jan. 16. You may wish to include in your lesson or sermon quotes from the 2010 Religious Freedom Day proclamation, the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, George Washington’s Letter to the Hebrew Congregation at Newport or stories from your own faith tradition about the need for religious freedom. Please share resources you collect in the comment section below, or contact Chuck Warpehoski at, or 734-663-1870, or George Lambrides,, 734-424-1535 for details.


Tony Dearing

Mon, Jan 24, 2011 : 8:17 p.m.

Thanks to everyone who participated in this discussion. Commenting on this post has been closed.


Thu, Jan 13, 2011 : 7:44 p.m.

@Chuck Warpehoski: Why can't we have a Middle East Task Force in the ICPJ?


Thu, Jan 13, 2011 : 12:26 p.m.

This is a time to chill and to accept & appreciate diversity. Don't forget to always look on the bright side of life.

Chuck Warpehoski

Thu, Jan 13, 2011 : 11:22 a.m.

The City Council resolution talks about promoting, "a community of respect and compassion for all people." So, for example, when Fred Phelps comes to town and protests at churches in Pastor Sprowles' denomination or when Terry Jones organized "burn a Qur'an day," these actions are legal, protected 1st amendment speech and should naot be legally restricted. That said, they also go against creating a community of respect. I believe it is both important to maintain 1st amendment-protected free speech and to use that same free speech to help create a community of respect and tolerance. I see tonight's forum as covering both of those.

Henry Herskovitz

Thu, Jan 13, 2011 : 10:50 a.m.

I agree with Mr. Briegel that our founders fled a government, which sanctioned a particular religion and imposed it on the population. I believe the interpretation of our First Amendment is that our government will not impose a religion upon the people; the people are free to worship without governmental interference. Supporters of Religious Freedom Day seem to be blurring this concept: a person's free speech rights as an individual to question another's religious beliefs is clearly guaranteed by the same Amendment. Freedom of religion focuses on what the government may or may not do, and does not apply to the private sector.

Mox La Push

Thu, Jan 13, 2011 : 12:35 a.m.

Chuck, why do you equate anti-Catholic job discrimination, desecration, "being restricted in religious observance in prison" with "facing signs accusing them of praying for genocide on the way to worship"? You characterize all of that as "anti-Catholic persecution" but it seems to me that criticizing support for a genocidal state is not the same as infringing upon religious freedom. What if a local Roman Catholic parish was indeed praying and advocating on behalf of a genocidal state? Would it, to your mind, still be a form of religious persecution to protest that? And what about the religious and political liberty of people who wanted to protest against that parish? Does that count for nothing?

David Briegel

Wed, Jan 12, 2011 : 8:52 p.m.

Basic Bob, Atheism and Communism have nothing in common except coincidence. Get over that one and get a life! Chuck, I am really tired of the fictitious "war on Christians". If Bob wants to carry his cross he may, but I just want to be "free" from all of that nonsense! He can practice anything he wants. Just leave me alone. Including in public. And I will defend his rights in his home and place of worship. Just leave me to hell alone!! I quit believing in Tooth Fairies, Easter Bunnies and Santa Claus a long time ago!

Chuck Warpehoski

Wed, Jan 12, 2011 : 8:24 p.m.

The Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom includes the clause, " no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion." @David, I read that as including religious freedom for atheists as well. Maybe it's semantics, but I don't think freedom from religion is a matter for the state. I don't subscribe to the beliefs of Fred Phelps (the God hates fags preacher), and I'm free to live my life according to these beliefs and to proclaim them. But, if it turns out he's right, then I'll be in some trouble come judgement day. I wouldn't be free "from" religion. @Peter, I'm not aware of an any anti-Catholic persecution in Ann Arbor currently. I'm not aware of Catholics being denied jobs due to their faith, having their sacred object desecrated, being restricted in religious observance in prison, or facing signs accusing them of praying for genocide on the way to worship. But maybe I'm missing something. The Klan has burned crosses in the yards of Catholics in this state. The "no nothing" party was fiercely anti-Catholic. This history of discrimination, harassment, violence, and vandalism should be a reminder to Catholics to support the religious freedoms of all people. My own faith tradition, Quakerism, has historically seen persecution. Quakers were killed in Boston for sharing their beliefs. The history of my religious forefathers and foremothers facing oppression for their beliefs is part of what inspires me to work to promote religious freedom for all.

Basic Bob

Wed, Jan 12, 2011 : 8:02 p.m.

Our founding fathers had a variety of beliefs, most of which can be categorized as Christian. Many came from countries that had a state church (Church of England), and were persecuted for belonging to other Christian denominations. The thing they desired was the freedom to practice their personal beliefs. They were not looking for the atheism promoted by Marxism. This country has freedom OF religion. That allows zealots of all sorts to practice their beliefs openly. Even the former communist states (Russia, China, Albania) now allow religious expression. So should we in Ann Arbor.

Emily Bachman

Wed, Jan 12, 2011 : 6:29 p.m.

David, we do live in a country with a large amount of religious freedom, but there are still pockets and sometimes very public displays of religious intolerance. The idea of these events, especially the forum on Thursday night, is to see where we're still falling short of what the founders worked for. And as an organization, the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice is trying to advocate for the freedom to have faith or not have faith. We operate with a diverse group of both religious and and non-religious people. Peter, these events are supposed to be promoting tolerance of all religions, as well as those who do not have a religious background. The topic of Islam has come to the forefront, especially in light of the issue of the the Mosque near the trade center which exposed intolerance throughout our country, but that will be one of several religions that we will be discussing. We are here to work for people of every faith background.


Wed, Jan 12, 2011 : 4:29 p.m.

Also, I'd say muslims that i know are treated like any other citizen of this country. It's the nutty muslims in the middle east that would cut off a person's hand for stealing or kill someone for what they believe that most americans hate. Luckily, our country has done a much better job of keeping our law separate from our majority religions.


Wed, Jan 12, 2011 : 3:56 p.m.

So just because liberals say that Muslims are being treated unfairly, we should believe them? I see more hate against catholics in Ann Arbor.

David Briegel

Wed, Jan 12, 2011 : 3:41 p.m.

Our founders fled religous persecution. I promise that you can practice any religion you wish in your home, church, mosque, synagogue or place of worship. All I ask for is freedom FROM religion! Can the zealots comply? Otherwise, we are not Free!

Chuck Warpehoski

Wed, Jan 12, 2011 : 11:38 a.m.

@bedrog, One of the panelists is Rabbi Rob Dobrusin of Beth Israel congregation is one of the panelists, though I don't know what you mean, "including by some members of the participating congregations." @demistify, Rev. Sue Sprowls denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, has regularly been targeted by Rev. Fred Phelps for the ELCA's inclusive stance toward lesbian and gay members. I'm not sure if this will be part of her topic or not. Our nation's founding puts forward a vision of religious liberty. I think we are living up to that vision more than we have in the past -- I think the attempts do destroy American Indian faith and culture in the BIA schools and the expulsion from Missouri are two egregious violations of this idea. Today, it is still a challenge. This forum is to recognize that challenge and see where we as a nation and community still need to go to live up to the ideal.


Wed, Jan 12, 2011 : 11:28 a.m.

I quote from the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Report: "...gays and lesbians are more than twice as likely to be attacked in a violent hate crime as Jews or blacks; more than four times as likely as Muslims; and 14 times as likely as Latinos." Perhaps the organizers should broaden their tunnel vision to where most of the hate crimes occur.