Bahai News - Clergy vow to cast out racism
Clergy vow to cast out racism
* In a signing ceremony yesterday, local religious leaders say they are
united in eliminating discrimination in Rhode Island.
PROVIDENCE - Moving to end what one minister called the "silence" around
the issue, more than 40 of that the state's leaders of faith pledged
yesterday to bolster efforts to make racism in Rhode Island a thing of
The "faith-leaders initiative," as it was described yesterday at a signing
ceremony at the First Baptist Church in America on North Main Street, drew
clergy and lay leaders from more than three dozen groups, including Muslims
and Baha'is, Baptists and Episcopalians, Jews and Catholics, Unitarians
"Racism contradicts and offends most fundamental beliefs and values of our
faith traditions," said the statement, which was similar in many respects
to a statement that was issued last December at the national level by a
group of interfaith leaders.
"Though we define and address holiness from different perceptions, we are
one in our recognition that prejudice and discrimination should have no
place among people of faith."
While some of the clergy described the initiative as timely and needed
more than ever, given the controversies over racial profiling and
stereotyping, which have been part of the debate both before and after the
Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, yesterday's statement was actually in the works
Rob Jones, of the Rhode Island chapter of the National Conference for
Community and Justice, said organizers were hoping that participants will
move beyond yesterday's signing ceremony and look for ways that they and
their houses of worship can begin working with other congregations to find
new and creative ways of tackling the problem.
The Rev. H. Daehler Hayes, of the Rhode Island Conference of the United
Church of Christ, observed that since last month's terrorist attacks,
people of all religions seem to want to be together and united.
"But I'm concerned about the long view," he said. "Six or 12 months from
now, are we going to continue that in an ongoing and careful way that will
Yesterday, it seemed that some of the networking was starting to take shape.
The Rev. Michael Devine, rector of St. George's Episcopal Church in Central
Falls, was talking with Mohammed Sharif, the University of Rhode Island
economics professor who heads the Southern Rhode Island Islamic Society of
the Muslim Heritage Council.
"I was thinking of bringing some of our confirmation class to one of the
mosques," said Father Devine. "'It would promote some understanding and
give the youth in our parish a better idea of what Islam is all about."
Sharif said he recently told an audience that racist bigotry and prejudice
are not likely to ever be eliminated, but they can be minimized.
He quoted from a verse of the Koran that is meant to remind Muslims that
everyone is created from the same potter's clay, and another verse in which
God declares that He has divided humans into many nations and communities
to not despise each other but to celebrate each other.
Sharif said he and others have been struck by the large numbers of letters
and e-mails from non-Muslims worried about how he and other Muslims are
being treated in this time of fear.
He said they are doing well, since the harassment that some Muslims have
encountered in other states is almost nonexistent in Rhode Island.
"I even got offers from non-Muslim women who want to wear head covers to
show their solidarity with Muslim women. I think it's a great idea. It
gives us the feeling that we are all human beings. When somebody suffers,
others step forward."
Even as the religious leaders gathered in the First Baptist Meeting House,'
another longtime foe of bigotry met with members of the editorial board of
The Providence Journal to voice his opposition to the apparent refusal by
law enforcement authorities to drop charges of carrying a concealed weapon
that they brought against Sher J.B. Singh.
Singh, who was arrested at the Providence Amtrak station on his way home to
Virginia the day after the terrorist attacks, is a Sikh, who in keeping
with his religious tradition, was wearing a small ceremonial dagger.
Norman G. Orodenker, chairman of the Rhode Island Commission on Prejudice
and Bias, said he has spoken with Senators Jack Reed, Lincoln D. Chafee
and U.S. Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy and intends to raise the issue with Mayor
Vincent A. Cianci Jr. in a meeting next week.
"I understand why [the Providence police] arrested him because everyone was
looking over their shoulders for anyone of Middle Eastern descent,"
Orodenker said. "But understanding something doesn't mean that you
condone it. To continue to prosecute is what we can't understand."
Orodenker, a senior partner with the law firm of Tillinghast, Licht &
Semonoff, said he also intends to urge the mayor to make sure that the
Providence police receive hate-crimes training.
Police Chief Richard T. Sullivan was out of town yesterday, but John J.
Partington, Providence's public safety commissioner, said his officers have
received intensive training in racial sensitivity.
Orodenker appeared yesterday to draw a darker picture than the one offered
by Sharif. Since Sept. 11, he said, there have been a significant number of
racial incidents in Rhode Island from verbal epithets to property crimes
such as graffiti and broken windows. "Since Sept. 11, every nut who ever
hated anyone thinks they have a license to wreak havoc," he said.
Staff writer Linda Borg contributed to this report.
©Copyright 2001, Providence Journal
Page last updated/revised 102001
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