A group of local interfaith leaders are uniting to declare the last weekend in February a ‘Hate-Free Zone’ for Oklahoma City during their ’41 Against Hate’ campaign.

Rev. Dr. William Tabbernee, executive director of the Oklahoma Conference of Churches stated, “Just as Oklahoma City displays many signs on buildings to indicate ‘smoke-free’ or ‘gun-free’ zones, retired Rabbi David Packman came up with the hashtag .”

Rabbi Packman, who became leader of Temple B’Nai Israel in Oklahoma City in 1976, was known for his ability to develop and nuture relationships with other congregations while creating several interfaith programs.

The hashtag  was endorsed enthusiastically by Rabbi Vered Harris, the current rabbi at Temple B’Nai Israel whose idea it was to bring the organizations together in February.

Campaign organizers originally hoped to get 25 congregations to participate. In fact, 41 congregations will be participating. Additionally, other cities are planning similar events, as in Tulsa.

Those participating in the “41 Against Hate” campaign will devote part of their congregations’ worship services from Friday, February 26 to Sunday, February 28 to emphasize the message of tolerance and respect for all peace-seeking people and their religions.

“Most Oklahomans are rightly proud of the state’s rich cultural and religious diversity,” said Tabbernee. “Sadly, there has also been a marked increase in anti-Islamic rhetoric recently bordering on (and sometimes actually being) hate-speech.”

A rash of physical attacks on mosques, synagogues, and churches in recent months in Oklahoma City and across the nation has heightened the need for extra security and safety training for many religious organizations.

“Such speech and acts of violence or desecration are unacceptable,” said Tabbernee.  “We need Oklahoma City to be a Hate-free Zone.”

“Churches, mosques, and synagogues have historically been safe spaces,” said the Very Rev. Justin Lindstrom, dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral, one of the congregations participating in the special weekend.

“Perhaps we can again model tolerance and respect and help people to overcome, through faith, the fear which sometimes leads to hateful words and actions against people of other faiths, or even of different groups within their own faith,” he added.

Last winter, CAIR-OK (Council on American-Islamic Relations) led by Adam Soltani, its executive director, launched a  initiative to promote building bridges of peace and understanding and to combat messages of hate.

The interfaith community of Oklahoma City came together and organized two #HateFreeOKC gatherings to raise awareness about the issue of bigotry in Oklahoma.

Carla Hinton, of the Oklahoman newspaper, reported that the events came about from an idea by Dr. Carl Rubenstein, president of the Interfaith Alliance of Oklahoma, and the Rev. Noel Jacobs, the interfaith organization’s vice president.

After the success of the inaugural event, the 2nd annual Muslim Day at the Capitol will be held on Friday, February 26. The event connects the Muslim community with lawmakers to promote civic engagement and educate attendees on issues of equality and social justice.

“At our 2016 Oklahoma Muslim Day at the Capitol, we are expanding our program to accommodate more attendees, to host special sessions for high school and college students, and to hold a special keynote session prior to Jumna prayer at the Capitol,” Soltani said.

Soltani told Hinton recently “The “41 Against Hate” campaign is wonderful, especially because it is an extension of the  initiative that several organizations began in 2015.

Those participating in the “41 Against Hate” campaign include: Baha’i Community of Oklahoma City, Cathedral of Hope OKC, Channing Unitarian Universalist Church-Edmond; Church of the Open Arms UCC, Connecting Point Presbyterian, and Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR)-Oklahoma chapter.

Also: Crown Heights United Methodist Church, Dharma Center, Edmond Trinity Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Emanuel Synagogue, First Christian Church-Yukon (Disciples of Christ), First Christian Church-Edmond (Disciples of Christ), and First Unitarian Church of Oklahoma City.

Others are: First United Presbyterian-Guthrie, Grace United Methodist, Hillel at the University of Oklahoma; Hindu Temple of Oklahoma City, Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, Joy Mennonite Church, Lord of Life Lutheran Church ELCA-Edmond, and Mayflower Congregational UCC.

Also: Midwest Boulevard Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)-Midwest City, Masjid Mu’min, Mosaic United Methodist Church, Northwest Christian Church, Prospect Baptist Church, Refuge Fellowship, Restoration Church at the Dome, Sikh Gurdwara of Oklahoma City, and Spring Creek Baptist Church.

Others include: St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church, St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, St. John’s Episcopal Church, St. Luke’s United Methodist, St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, St. Paul’s Cathedral, St. Stephen’s United Methodist, Temple B’nai Israel, Trinity Lutheran ELCA, United Church of Norman UCC and Village United Methodist.

“A final hashtag, encompassing the whole state, sums up the positive side of what all these congregations are trying to achieve: ,” said Tabbernee.

For more information, visit okchurches.org.