Archive for August, 2010

Sign on to Support Immigration Reform


Civic Leaders Stand for Immigrant Families


We the undersigned, representing elected officials, educators, entrepreneurs, community leaders, police officers and religious leaders, urge our federal lawmakers to recognize the contributions of all members of our communities and promote the fundamental American values of family, opportunity and unity.

Immigrants are valued members of our communities and a part of the fabric of our local economies. But the current policies of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are tearing apart families, and leading to horrific human suffering and financial ruin for far too many in our communities. Last year, DHS deported a record number of immigrants, averaging nearly 1,100 deportations each day; and according to recent news reports, the Administration aims to match or beat that record this year. This policy of escalated deportations and detentions is tearing parents away from their children, creating a climate of fear and terror that is ultimately corrosive to our sense of community, and is nothing short of a moral and humanitarian crisis.

This crisis we see in our communities is compounded by political gridlock in Washington, DC. The divisive politicization of the national dialogue about immigrants and immigration reform has led to a political climate that is hostile to the common-sense, rational solutions that enjoy majority support from the American public. A handful of states around the country are resorting to misguided laws that sanction racial profiling, breed mistrust and fear, and make the jobs of police officers even more difficult. Meanwhile, political agitators cynically propose repealing the 14th Amendment; knowing that changing the Constitution to restrict freedom would be both an unprecedented reversal of tradition, and nearly impossible to pass and ratify. In the midst of this political crisis, more families are torn apart and the dreams of young people remain deferred.

As leaders in our communities, we see the toll that both the moral and political crises are having on our neighbors, students, parishioners, customers and constituents; and it is abundantly clear that other leaders around the nation must assert leadership and courage on the issue of immigration. We insist that the Administration immediately provide relief from the inhumane deportations that are tearing apart families and causing pain in our communities. We urge our nation’s legislators to advance common-sense and humane reforms to the immigration system this year. We look to leaders in the media to restore civility and rationality to the dialogue around immigration reform. We call on our fellow Americans to live out our core American values by showing respect for all members of our national community without regard to national origin, color or religion and demand the same from our leaders in Washington, DC.


I agree with the statement above, I willingly sign-on in support of this effort, and I permit the Fair Immigration Reform Movement and Reform Immigration FOR America to publicly list my name and title as a supporter.


Full Title:

Email / Phone:                                                            (for verification purposes only, contact information will not be made public or added to any email lists)

Organization that recruited you:

Please send completed forms to: Sean Thomas-Breitfeld, Center for Community Change or fax to 212-643-8026


Text of President Obama’s speech at White House Iftar Dinner

Text of President Obama’s remarks at the White House Iftar dinner on Ramadan Good evening. Welcome to the White House. To you, to Muslim Americans across our country, and to more than one billion Muslims around the world, I extend my best wishes on this holy month. Ramadan Kareem. I want to welcome members of the diplomatic corps; members of my administration; and Members of Congress, including Rush Holt, John Conyers, and Andre Carson, who is one of two Muslim American Members of Congress, along with Keith Ellison. Here at the White House, we have a tradition of hosting iftars that goes back several years, just as we host Christmas parties, seders, and Diwali celebrations. These events celebrate the role of faith in the lives of the American people. They remind us of the basic truth that we are all children of God, and we all draw strength and a sense of purpose from our beliefs. These events are also an affirmation of who we are as Americans. Our Founders understood that the best way to honor the place of faith in the lives of our people was to protect their freedom to practice religion. In the…. …Virginia Act for Establishing Religion Freedom, Thomas Jefferson wrote that “all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion.” The First Amendment of our Constitution established the freedom of religion as the law of the land. And that right has been upheld ever since. Indeed, over the course of our history, religion has flourished within our borders precisely because Americans have had the right to worship as they choose – including the right to believe in no religion at all. And it is a testament to the wisdom of our Founders that America remains deeply religious – a nation where the ability of peoples of different faiths to coexist peacefully and with mutual respect for one another stands in contrast to the religious conflict that persists around the globe. That is not to say that religion is without controversy. Recently, attention has been focused on the construction of mosques in certain communities – particularly in New York. Now, we must all recognize and respect the sensitivities surrounding the development of lower Manhattan. The 9/11 attacks were a deeply traumatic event for our country. The pain and suffering experienced by those who lost loved ones is unimaginable. So I understand the emotions that this issue engenders. Ground Zero is, indeed, hallowed ground. But let me be clear: as a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country, and will not be treated differently by their government, is essential to who we are. The writ of our Founders must endure. We must never forget those who we lost so tragically on 9/11, and we must always honor those who have led our response to that attack – from the firefighters who charged up smoke-filled staircases, to our troops who are serving in Afghanistan today. And let us always remember who we are fighting against, and what we are fighting for. Our enemies respect no freedom of religion. Al Qaeda’s cause is not Islam – it is a gross distortion of Islam. These are not religious leaders – these are terrorists who murder innocent men, women and children. In fact, al Qaeda has killed more Muslims than people of any other religion – and that list of victims includes innocent Muslims who were killed on 9/11. That is who we are fighting against. And the reason that we will win this fight is not simply the strength of our arms – it is the strength of our values. The democracy that we uphold. The freedoms that we cherish. The laws that we apply without regard to race or religion; wealth or status. Our capacity to show not merely tolerance, but respect to those who are different from us – a way of life that stands in stark contrast to the nihilism of those who attacked us on that September morning, and who continue to plot against us today. In my inaugural address, I said that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth. That diversity can bring difficult debates. Indeed, past eras have seen controversies about the construction of synagogues or Catholic churches. But time and again, the American people have demonstrated that we can work through these issues, stay true to our core values, and emerge stronger for it. So it must be – and will be – today. Tonight, we are reminded that Ramadan is a celebration of a faith known for great diversity. And Ramadan is a reminder that Islam has always been part of America. The first Muslim ambassador to the United States, from Tunisia, was hosted by President Jefferson, who arranged a sunset dinner for his guest because it was Ramadan—making it the first known iftar at the White House, more than 200 years ago. Like so many other immigrants, generations of Muslims came here to forge their future. They became farmers and merchants, worked in mills and factories, and helped lay the railroads. They helped build America. They founded the first Islamic center in New York City in the 1890s. They built America’s first mosque on the prairie of North Dakota. And perhaps the oldest surviving mosque in America—still in use today—is in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Today, our nation is strengthened by millions of Muslim Americans. They excel in every walk of life. Muslim American communities—including mosques in all fifty states—also serve their neighbors. Muslim Americans protect our communities as police, firefighters and first responders. Muslim American clerics have spoken out against terror and extremism, reaffirming that Islam teaches that one must save human life, not take it. And Muslim Americans serve with honor in our military. At next week’s iftar at the Pentagon, tribute will be paid to three soldiers who gave their lives in Iraq and now rest among the heroes of Arlington National Cemetery. These Muslim Americans died for the security that we depend upon, and the freedoms that we cherish. They are part of an unbroken line of Americans that stretches back to our Founding; Americans of all faiths who have served and sacrificed to extend the promise of America to new generations, and to ensure that what is exceptional about America is protected – our commitment to stay true to our core values, and our ability to perfect our union. For in the end, we remain “one nation, under God, indivisible.” And we can only achieve “liberty and justice for all” if we live by that one rule at the heart of every religion, including Islam—that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Thank you all for being here, and I wish you a blessed Ramadan. And with that, let’s eat.

Press Release: Top Religious Leaders Denounce Growing Anti-Muslim Sentiment; Express Support for NY Mosque, Community Center

Press Release

Top Religious Leaders Denounce Growing Anti-Muslim Sentiment; Express Support for NY Mosque, Community Center

Challenge Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin To Stop Exploiting Fear

August 11, 2010

More than 40 prominent Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders and religion scholars issued a statement today condemning the “xenophobia and religious bigotry” fueling the increasingly strident opposition to a proposed Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero. These leaders from New York City and across the country are specifically challenging the divisive rhetoric of Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin, who have strongly opposed a center that will promote interfaith relations, combat extremism, and offer community programs for Americans of all religious backgrounds.

“It’s simply wrong for Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin, public figures who frequently reference their Christian values, to malign all Muslims by comparing this cultural center and mosque with a radical ideology that led to the horrific attacks of 9-11,” said Sister Simone Campbell, Executive Director of NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby. “We fail to honor those killed by terrorists when we betray the bedrock principle of religious freedom that has guided our democracy for centuries.”

Newt Gingrich recently claimed that the Cordoba House “… is a sign of their contempt for Americans and their confidence in our historic ignorance that they would deliberately insult us this way.” Palin called plans for the center a “provocation” that “stabs at the heart.”

Faithful America – an online community of more than 100,000 people of faith – is also standing up for the American Muslim community and interfaith cooperation today in response to anti-Muslim sentiment and fierce opposition to proposed mosques in communities across the country. Faithful America members are signing a petition to honor the “many contributions of American Muslims toward global peace” and denounce bigotry and limits on religious freedom as a betrayal of American values.

“Christians who believe in the values of religious freedom and interfaith cooperation welcome plans for Cordoba House, a center of culture and dialogue that will honor our nation’s highest ideals,” said the Rev. Peg Chemberlin, President of the National Council of Churches. “We are deeply saddened by those who denigrate a religion which in so many ways is a religion of compassion and peace by associating all Muslims with violent extremism. That’s like equating all Christians to Timothy McVeigh’s actions. This center will reflect not only the best of Islam, but the enduring hope that Christians, Jews and Muslims can together find common ground in addressing the most urgent challenges of our time.”

“Back in the fall of 2001, when President George W. Bush assured the American people that the War on Terror was not a war against Islam, it would have been hard to imagine a more picture perfect example of Muslim Americans exercising their civic responsibilities than by building a thirteen-story YMCA-style community center,” said Rev. Chloe Breyer, Executive Director of the Interfaith Center of New York. “Cordoba House is exactly the kind of initiative that we need here in New York – it will serve people of all faith traditions and enrich the city, cultivating a society that lives up to our highest ideals, not our worse fears.”

“I’m proud to join so many leaders from diverse faith traditions who recognize that fear-mongering and scapegoating ‘the other’ has no rightful place in a nation that strives to be a beacon of hope for all those seeking opportunity or escaping persecution,” said Simon Greer, President and CEO of Jewish Funds for Justice. “At a time when Americans deserve real solutions to profound challenges, I am hopeful that the shrill voices of division will be drowned out by a chorus of citizens dedicated to working across lines of race and faith to serve the common good.”

Rabbi Marc Schneier, President of The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding in New York, said: “A fundamental tenet of the Torah teaches us to ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself’ (Leviticus 19:18). Far more challenging is the dictum, ‘Love the stranger, for you too were strangers in the land of Egypt’ (Deuteronomy 10:19). ‘Love thy neighbor’ is mentioned only once in the Bible while ‘Love the stranger’ is repeated 36 times. This added emphasis highlights how challenging and important it is to love someone different than yourself. Our great nation’s history as a beacon of tolerance and religious freedom further encourages us to embrace the strangers in our midst of different faiths and backgrounds. The Cordoba House embodies these proud and sacred traditions.”

The full statement with signatories is below, or available online here. To view the Faithful America petition, visit

Interfaith Leaders Stand with Cordoba House, Denounce Hateful Rhetoric

As Catholic, evangelical, mainline Protestant, Jewish and Muslim leaders and scholars committed to religious freedom and inter-religious cooperation, we are deeply troubled by the xenophobia and religious bigotry that has characterized some of the opposition to a proposed Islamic center and mosque near where the World Trade Center towers once stood.

Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House, is the most recent prominent opponent to cast this debate in a way that demonizes all Muslims and exploits fear to divide Americans. “It is a sign of their contempt for Americans and their confidence in our historic ignorance that they would deliberately insult us this way,” Gingrich, a Catholic, said in a statement. Sarah Palin, an evangelical Christian who frequently references her faith as an inspiration for her political beliefs, called plans for the center a “provocation.” Fox News has aired a steady stream of irresponsible commentary and biased coverage that reduces what should be a civil debate into starkly combative terms.

The profound tragedy of Sept. 11th revealed the horror that can unfold when a small minority of violent extremists manipulates religious language for political gain and falsely claims to represent one of the world’s great religions. We have witnessed this sinful corruption of religion across faith traditions throughout history and must condemn it without equivocation whenever or wherever it occurs. However, we fail to honor those murdered on that awful day – including Muslim Americans killed in the Twin Towers and Pentagon – by betraying our nation’s historic commitment to religious liberty, fueling ugly stereotypes about Islam and demeaning the vast majority of Muslims committed to peace. The proposed mosque would be part of Cordoba House, a center open to all Americans that will provide Islamic, interfaith and secular programs. The project aims to support “integration, tolerance of difference and community cohesion through arts and culture,” according to the Cordoba Initiative, which promotes improved “Muslim-West relations.” These are exactly the kind of efforts that foster dialogue, break down barriers and begin to build a world where religiously inspired violent extremism is less likely.

Mr. Gingrich, Ms. Palin and other prominent voices privileged to have the ear of the media would make a more lasting contribution to our nation if they stopped issuing inflammatory statements and instead helped inspire a civil dialogue between Christians, Jews and Muslims committed to a future guided by the principles of compassion, justice and peace. Fear-mongering and hateful rhetoric only undermine treasured values at the heart of diverse faith traditions and our nation’s highest ideals.
The Rev. Canon Peg Chemberlin
President, National Council of Churches
Executive Director, Minnesota Council of Churches

The Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon
General Secretary
National Council of Churches

The Rev. Dr. Ken Brooker Langston
Director, Disciples Justice Action Network
Coordinator, Disciples Center for Public Witness

The Rev. Chloe Breyer
Executive Director
The Interfaith Center of New York

Lisa Sharon Harper
Executive Director
New York Faith and Justice

Simon Greer
President and CEO
Jewish Funds for Justice

Rabbi Joy Levitt
Executive Director
Jewish Community Center in Manhattan

Rabbi Marc Schneier
The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding

Rabbi Richard Hirsh
Executive Director
Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association

Rabbi Irwin Kula
CLAL – National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership

Rabbi Abie Ingber
Founding Director
Interfaith Community Engagement
Xavier University
Cincinnati, Ohio

Jeremy Ben-Ami
J Street

Salam Al-Marayati
Muslim Public Affairs Council

Mohamed Elsanousi
Director of Community Outreach
Islamic Society of North America

Rabbi Nancy Fuchs Kreimer
Associate Professor
Director, Department of Multifaith Studies and Initiatives
Reconstructionist Rabbinical College

Rabbi Gerald Serotta
Clergy Beyond Borders

Virginia Avniel Spatz
Program Director
Clergy Beyond Borders

Sister Mary Waskowiak, RSM
Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas

Sister Simone Campbell, SSS
Executive Director
NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby

Sister Marlene Weisenbeck, FSPA
Leadership Conference of Women Religious

David Robinson
Executive Director
Pax Christi USA

Marie Dennis
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns
Co-President Pax Christi International

T. Michael McNulty, SJ
Justice and Peace Director
Conference of Major Superiors of Men

John Esposito
University Professor & Founding Director
Prince Alwaleed Bin-Talal
Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding
Georgetown University

John Zoll
Associate Director
Prince Alwaleed Bin-Talal
Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding
Georgetown University

James E. Hug, S.J.
Center of Concern

Sister Maria Riley, OP
Senior Advisor
Center of Concern

Rabbi J. Rolando Matalon
Congregation B’nai Jeshurun
New York, NY

Rabbi Brant Rosen
Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation
Evanston, IL

Rabbi Sue Levy
Houston, Texas

Rabbi Dev Noily
Oakland, CA

Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman
Congregation Shaarei Shamayim
Madison, WI

Paul Lakeland
Professor of Catholic Studies
Director, Center for Catholic Studies
Fairfield University

Thomas J. Reese, S.J.
Senior Fellow
Woodstock Theological Center
Georgetown University

Robin Darling Young
Associate Professor
Department of Theology
University of Notre Dame

Alex Mikulich
Research Fellow
Jesuit Social Research Institute
Loyola University, New Orleans

Stephen Schneck
Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies
Catholic University of America

David J. O’Brien
Professor Emeritus of History
University of Dayton

Terrence W. Tilley
Professor of Catholic Theology
Chair, Theology Department
Fordham University
Bronx, New York

Nicholas P. Cafardi
Dean Emeritus and Professor of Law
Duquesne University School of Law

Jeannine Hill Fletcher
Associate Professor of Theology
Fordham University

Lew Daly
Senior Fellow

Francis Schüssler Fiorenza
Stillman Professor
Harvard Divinity School

John Renard
Professor of Theological Studies
Saint Louis University

Bradford E. Hinze
Professor of Theology
Fordham University
Bronx, New York

Sandra A. Yocum
Chair of Religious Studies
University of Dayton

Affiliations listed for identification purposes only.

The Faithful Search: A Civics Primer for Real Patriots

Read this article at The Huffington Post

Cordoba House, the proposed mosque and community center near Ground Zero, appears to have catalyzed a national crisis of faith. Laurie Goodstein’s article in the New York Times, “Across Nation, Mosque Projects Meet Opposition” documents at least three demonstrations against proposed mosques in Temecula, CA, Sheboygan, WI, and Murfreesboro, TN. Add two others proposed mosque location in New York — one in Sheephead Bay and the other on Staten Island — and the national total climbs to six contested Muslim houses of worship within the last four months.

The proliferating nature of these anti-mosque demonstrations and their shifting tenor from concerns about noise and parking to panicked claims about the imminent threats of “Islamization” and “Shariazation” begs a moment of national introspection — not just about the state of our individual souls but also our collective grasp of The Great American Civics Course.

Most civics lessons begin with an outline of the rights and responsibilities of a US Citizen. With citizenship, we are instructed, comes the responsibility to vote and — since Robert Putman underlined Alexis de Toqueville on the importance of voluntary association building good democratic habits — a strong warning against bowling alone. Public engagement and service to the wider community is a civic responsibility that knows no partisan or religious boundary — it holds true for Muslims, Presbyterians, and Tea Party activists alike. Traditionally, it’s been political conservatives who have known this part of the lesson better than the rest of us. Of late, however, the particularly patriotic set has neglected its homework.

How else does one explain such virulent reaction to Imam Feisal Rauf and his wife Daisy Kahn, a couple who, as a members of the Community Board One, are aptly described as “The Rotarians” of the American Muslim community? Back in the fall of 2001, when President George W. Bush assured the American people that the War on Terror was not a war against Islam and held the first-ever White House Ramadan Iftar meal, it would have been hard to imagine a more picture perfect example of Muslim Americans exercising their civic responsibilities than by building a thirteen-story YMCA-style community center complete with prayer space, sports facilities, publicly accessible meeting rooms, an auditorium, theatrical programming, and resources for children with disabilities. (Indeed, the closer such a building were to located to Ground Zero, the more it would thumb its nose at terrorists who hated freedom of all kinds — particularly religious freedom).

A nation-wide civics refresher course at this moment in time would also remind us of the historic importance of religious freedom as a basic American value. Such a course would include a bit of history — not just about the importance of freedom of religious expression and its non-establishment to our founders, but also about the times in the past when these core democratic principles have been violated.

A good civics primer with its smattering of US history would show us, for example, that twenty-first-century American fears of Islam echo nineteenth-century fears of Roman Catholicism: “I do believe everybody has a right to freedom of religion, but Islam is not about a religion. It’s a political government, and it’s 100 percent against our Constitution,” Diane Serafin, a participant in last Friday’s demonstration against a mosque site near San Diego, explained in the Goodstein article. Her voice and those of other members of ACT! for America, a Florida-based group seeking to defend Western civilization against Islam, echo the words of Samuel F.B. Morse, the nineteenth-century inventor of the telegraph and distinguished professor of sculpture at New York University. In his book Conspiracy Against the Liberties of the United States, he described Roman Catholicism this way:

Surely American Protestants, freemen, have discernment enough to discover beneath them the cloven foot of this subtle foreign heresy. They will see that Popery is now, what it has ever been, a system of the darkest political intrigue and despotism, cloaking itself to avoid attack under the sacred name of religion. They will be deeply impressed with the truth, that Popery is a political as well as a religious system; that in this respect it differs totally from all other sects, from all other forms of religion in the country.

His words and those of other anti-Catholic preachers like Lymon Beacher could easily have inspired the mob gathered outside the first Roman Catholic Cathedral in New York City, St. Patrick’s “Old Cathedral” — not far from today’s Grounds Zero — in 1835. On that day and others subsequently, Archbishop John Hughes was forced to assemble his parishioners — and later the Ancient Order of the Hibernians — to defend their house of worship against protesters who marched on St. Patrick’s chanting epitaphs like “Paddies of the Pope…” and showed a determination to “burn her to the ground.”

While the faithful who do not learn the lessons of civic disasters past may be doomed to repeat them, all hope is not lost. In the past as well as the present, esteemed graduates of the Great American Civics Course — many of them First Ladies — have been around to encourage the rest of us to get back to our studies. Eleanor Roosevelt, for example, wrote words regretting Anti-Catholic sentiment in the election of President John F. Kennedy that could apply to civicly-challenged anti-Muslim fears today: “What seemed to me most deplorable,” she writes in her reflections on the 1960 election, “was not the fact that so many people feared the strength of the Roman Catholic Church; it was that they had no faith in the strength of their own way of life and their own Constitution” (Eleanor Roosevelt, John Kennedy, and the Election of 1960: A Project of The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, Columbia, S.C.: Model Editions Partnership, 2003).

Roosevelt’s words urged Americans then and remind us now not to forget that our Founders came here for religious freedom and the right to worship God as they chose. She believed that religious the freedom was foundation stone of the Republic and said, “I, for one, believe in it with all my heart, and I reject, with shame and indignation, the fear, the lack of faith, the shaken confidence of those who would topple the stone on which we stand so proudly.”

The Rev. Chloe Breyer is the Executive Director of the Interfaith Center of New York and Associate Minister at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church.

Matthew Weiner is the Program Director of the Interfaith Center of New York.

Haiti Update: Faith in Society After the Earthquake

Rev. Chloe Breyer reflects on how faith and interfaith collaboration help the people of Haiti persevere.

Yahoo news discusses Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf

Yahoo News discusses ICNY board member Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and the Park51 cultural center and mosque.

Program Director Matt Weiner attends the Mayor’s Press Conference

Program Director Matt Weiner (3rd from right) attends the mayor’s press conference on Governor’s Island, where Bloomberg spoke eloquently calling on New Yorkers to uphold the American tradition of religious tolerance and respect for diversity.   Read the Mayor’s speech at: