Written by Anthony Moujaes
The United Church of Christ has signed on with a coalition of interfaith partners in a counter-campaign responding to a series of anti-Muslim hate speech billboards which went up in the subway tunnels in Washington, D.C.
With Friday's Muslim holiday, Eid Al Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice) nearing, Dr. Peter E. Makari, the UCC's executive for the Middle East and Europe, says the denomination is offering its support and prayers to its Islamic brothers and sisters.
"Hate speech has no place in the community we strive to attain. As people of faith, we are instructed to love God and our neighbors. Such a relationship includes getting to know our neighbors, their joys, and their pains and sorrows," Makari said. "As the Muslim community worldwide prepares to commemorate the Feast of the Sacrifice, Abraham's preparedness to sacrifice his son, we can offer Muslim neighbors our good wishes and our prayer for peace, while standing opposed to those who would defame and insult others."
One UCC congregation in Washington D.C., First Congregational United Church of Christ, plans to post signs in its sanctuary saying that it stands with the Muslim community, and it hopes to have a forum on the issue in November.
"We're in conversation with local mosque communities and local Muslim faith-based organizations to host a public forum," said Susie Hayward, a member of First Congregational UCC, who is organizing the response. "This is flowing out of our belief that Jesus taught us to love God and love our neighbors."
Hayward added it is "incumbent on faith communities to respond forcefully to hate speech and religious hate speech."
The controversial ad, sponsored by the conservative group American Freedom Defense Initiative, is on display for a month at four Metro stations in the nation's capital. It reads: "In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad." There are also similar signs posted in San Francisco and New York City, according to the Huffington Post.
The counter-campaign ad, organized by the Shoulder-to-Shoulder coalition and United Methodist Women, reads: "Hate speech is not civilized. Support peace in word and deed," followed by a Twitter hashtag #mysubwayad.
There are 24 faith-based groups from Christian, Jewish and Muslim denominations joining together to speak out against the hate speech campaign. The organizations released a letter last week urging the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), known in D.C. as the Metro, not to profit from the hate speech ads by donating proceeds from the billboards to a Washington-based charity.
The WMATA initially fought to delay posting the controversial billboards, fearing they would promote violence, but a federal judge, citing the First Amendment and the right to free speech, ordered they be posted. To distance itself from the controversy, the WMATA said recently it will post disclaimers which states it does not endorse AFDI's message. "This is a paid advertisement… The advertising space is a designated public forum and does not imply WMATA's endorsement of any views express," the disclaimer reads.