Faith: Local community responds to hate by celebrating religious freedom day
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, email@example.com, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
“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 email@example.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or 734-663-1870, or George Lambrides, email@example.com, 734-424-1535 for details.