It’s been almost a year since the first “Muslim Day at the Capitol” but religious leaders around the city are still talking about it.
They’ve hardly spoken about the protesters who hurled insults at Muslims who attended the 2015 event.
Instead, the spiritual leaders have discussed the way Oklahomans of different faiths came together to provide a human wall of support against the demonstrators’ bigotry.
Noel Jacobs, vice president of the Interfaith Alliance of Oklahoma, said interfaith volunteers stand ready to “form a corridor of support” if needed for attendees of the 2016 “Muslim Day at the Capitol” set for Friday.
And this year, 41 metro area houses of worship are taking another step to dispel hate and promote peace.
Leaders of the churches, mosques, Hindu temples, Buddhist and Baha’i congregations will be speaking out against hatred and intolerance during their worship services Friday through Feb. 28 as part of an interfaith campaign called “41 Against Hate.”
Rabbi Vered Harris, spiritual leader of Temple B’nai Israel and one of the campaign’s organizers, said the weekend initiative is purposely being held the week of the “Muslim Day at the Capitol” event. She said organizers hoped to get 25 houses of worship to join in the effort and were thrilled when they exceeded that number.
“We don’t want hateful speech representing Oklahoma,” Harris said. “As Oklahomans, we can do better than that.”
Jacobs said the Interfaith Alliance is part of the coalition of 41 in part to celebrate the fact that a “belief system community can come and spend a day with the Legislature at the Capitol.”
Also, he said “we want to be clear that we support the Muslim community because we are all a part of the fabric of Oklahoma.”
Adam Soltani, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Oklahoma chapter (CAIR-OK), said this year’s “Muslim Day at the Capitol” will include workshops and guest speakers designed to educate Muslims about civic engagement and to encourage them to be active in the political process. The event, sponsored by CAIR-OK, will conclude with an Interfaith Jummah Prayer Service on the second floor rotunda.
Soltani said he thinks the “41 Against Hate” campaign is “wonderful” especially because it is an extension of the “#HateFreeOKC” initiative that several organizations began in 2015.
“Unfortunately, we’re seeing too much hate in our society. Anything that stands against bigotry and hatred is a beautiful thing,” he said.
Soltani said four different groups have indicated through Facebook posts and other social media that they may show up to protest Friday’s event at the Capitol.
He said he is aware that volunteers affiliated with the Interfaith Alliance have said they will be at the Capitol to support attendees like last year.
“So even if protesters show up there will be supporters to balance out the hatred and hopefully drown out the hatred,” Soltani said.
“We’re taxpaying citizens. This is our fundamental right as American citizens, yet it seems there are people who don’t want Muslims to have that.”
Jacobs said the Interfaith Alliance has reserved the south steps of the Capitol on Friday in an effort to be a supportive presence for the Muslim faith community and others who attend CAIR-OK’s event.
Several leaders whose congregations are participating in “41 Against Hate” said the campaign is a way to promote peace while expressing their view that bigotry — no matter who it is aimed against — is wrong.
“I believe Jesus Christ is the way to salvation, I really do, but that does not require me to mistreat or hate anyone else,” said the Rev. Lee Cooper Jr., senior pastor of Prospect Baptist Church.
“This is about affirming people who are different than you and not fear mongering and looking at people as ‘other’ but as ‘brother.'”
The Rev. Justin Lindstrom, dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral, said his view is that hate tears the community down, while peace builds it up.
“There’s just a lot of hatred that is lobbed on different groups in our community, so we’re just saying as a faith community we’re going to stand up against that and we’re going to be for peace and we will preach on it and pray about it especially that weekend, but every weekend,” he said.
The Rev. William Tabbernee, executive director of the Oklahoma Conference, shared similar comments.
“Just as there are ‘smoke-free zones’ we want to have a ‘hate-free zone,'” he said.
The Rev. Dawn Enderwood, minister of Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Edmond, said hate runs counter to the theology and ethics of all religions and her sermons during the “41 Against Hate” campaign will focus on this.
“They say every preacher has one note, well my one note is ‘Love the Lord your God’ and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,'” she said.
Meanwhile, Rabbi Abby Jacobson, spiritual leader of Emanuel Synagogue, was one of the volunteers who helped escort Muslims into the Capitol for last year’s “Muslim Day at the Capitol.” She will be doing the same this year.
“I certainly don’t want to be guilty of being silent while there is hate and evil going on,” she said.
Jacobson said she was shocked at the hateful insults protesters yelled at attendees at the 2015 event.
“It made me so sad. The hateful things that people were saying were nonsense,” Jacobson said.
“It’s completely ridiculous that someone should care what someone’s religion or ethnicity is when they are trying to access the government. ‘Of the people, by the people, for the people’ means all the people.”
The houses of worship and organizations 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-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 Mumin, 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.