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9/11 Families, Religious Leaders, Civic Groups and Civil Rights Groups Announce Coalition to Support Religious Freedom

Today, more than 50 prominent organizations, civic groups, leaders and religious and interfaith groups - including the New York Civil Liberties Union - joined together to announce the creation of a coalition in support of religious freedom and diversity and to rebuff the increasingly strident opposition to a proposed Islamic center near Ground Zero. New York Neighbors for American Values embraces the American constitutional values of religious freedom, diversity and equality. We stand together today to reject the crude stereotypes meant to frighten and divide us.

Today, more than 50 prominent organizations, civic groups, leaders and religious and interfaith groups – including the New York Civil Liberties Union – joined together to announce the creation of a coalition in support of religious freedom and diversity and to rebuff the increasingly strident opposition to a proposed Islamic center near Ground Zero. New York Neighbors for American Values embraces the American constitutional values of religious freedom, diversity and equality. We stand together today to reject the crude stereotypes meant to frighten and divide us.

Press Statement on Behalf of New York Neighbors for American Values:

America is strongest when her people stand united by the freedoms our nation was founded on. New York Neighbors for American Values embraces our core American values of religious freedom, diversity and equality. As community groups and organizations representing hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers, we welcome the planned Muslim community center in Lower Manhattan – as we would welcome any center planned by neighbors of good will.

New York is one of the world’s great cities thanks to the richness, vibrancy and diversity of those who call New York home. The shared hopes and dreams of countless New Yorkers have united our city for centuries. We will not allow anyone to sow fear and division or condemn the warm embrace we have always offered to all people from all lands. We call on our country’s politicians, pundits and leaders to live up to the freedoms enshrined in our Constitution, the very values Americans have fought for and held dear for centuries. And we call on our neighbors in New York and across the nation to stand up and stand united: Our Constitution’s founding freedoms extend to every person and every house of worship, regardless of creed or color. America’s founding values must be welcome on every street and in every town square across the nation.

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Organizational Members:
Arab Muslim American Federation, American Civil Liberties Union, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), Auburn Theological Seminary, Brennan Center for Justice, Brooklyn for Peace, Center for Constitutional Rights, Center for Understanding Islam, Citizen Action of New York, Common Cause/New York, Community Voices Heard, Convergence of Cultures/NY, Council on American-Islamic Relations-NY, Demos, Downtown Independent Democrats, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Good Jobs New York, Greater NYC for Change, Greater New York Labor-Religion Coalition, Interfaith Center of New York, Islamic Mission of America inc., Jews for Racial and Economic Justice [JFREJ], Judson Memorial Church, League of Women Voters of the City of New York, Lower Manhattan Democrats (LMD), Manhattan Young Democrats, Middle East Crisis Response (MECR), Muslim Bar Association of New York, Muslim Consultative Network, Muslim Public Affairs Council –NYC, New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), New York Theological Seminary, New York City New Sanctuary Movement, Pax Christi Metro New York, Planners Network, The Dialogue Project, The New York City Chapter of Humanist Party, The Shalom Center, Woodstock International, Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring

Individual Members (organizational affiliation for identification only):
Talat Hamdani, Mother of Mohammad Salman Hamdani NYPD Cadet, EMT, WTC II
Adem Carroll, Muslim American Civil Liberties Coalition
Debbie Almontaser, Founding and Former Principal of the Khalil Gibran International Academy
Dr. Victoria L. Sharp, Director, Center for Comprehensive Care, St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital
Hester Eisenstein, Sociology, Queens College and the Graduate Center
Jennifer Baumgardner, Co-Owner, Soapbox Inc.
Dr. Lucinda Allen Mosher, Interreligious Relations Consultant
Serene Jones, President, Union Theological Seminary
Rev. Charles H. Straut, Jr., DMin, Consultant in Ministry, New York Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church
Dr. Diane Steinman, Co-Chair, New York State Interfaith Network for Immigration Reform
Luis Barrios, Ph.D., BCFE, St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, Professor, John Jay College of Criminal Justice- Department of Latin American & Latina/o Studies
Peter Marcuse, Professor emeritus of Urban Planning, Columbia University
Rev. Bruce Southworth, Senior Minister, The Community Church of NY Unitarian Universalist Forty
Rev. Freeman Palmer, Metro Association Minister, United Church of Christ, New York Conference
Rev. Dr Rita M Root, Interim Conference Minister, New York Conference, United Church of Christ
Rev. Dr. Robert L. Brashear, Pastor, West-Park Presbyterian Church
Tarak Kauff , Veterans for Peace, MECR, Editor Woodstock International newspaper

Quotes in Support of the Coalition:

“We cannot bring back the family members we lost on 9/11 but we can try to recoup what is best about America. We are firm in our commitment to civil liberties and religious freedom and we encourage civility and human decency in our interactions with each other.”
Donna O’Connor, national spokeswoman for September 11th for Peaceful Tomorrows

“We long for an America that will learn to welcome new groups, new ideas, new energy.”
Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper, President, New Sanctuary Movement

“America’s core values, principles, and beliefs in equality and justice must guide our actions as a society in order for this great experiment in democracy to succeed.” said Té Revesz, member of the Board of Directors of Citizen Action of New York. The United States’ motto, ‘E pluribus Unum, Out of many, one’ is more than just a saying adopted by Congress in 1782. The inclusiveness of our society – so evident on the streets of New York – has made us unique among the nations of the world and has been a vital source of our strength and progress as a country. Our voices are clear: we must fight for inclusion, against fear-mongering, and defend the rights of our Muslim neighbors who wish to exercise their Constitutionally-guaranteed freedoms”.
Citizen Action of New York and Té Revesz, Member of the Board of Directors of Citizen Action of New York

“The controversy over Park51 and centers nationwide reveal a new wave of anti-Muslim sentiment peddled by extreme right organizations and some politicians exploiting the tragedy of 9/11 to spread fear and hate. While some officials have rejected this kind of divisive tactic, others risk mainstreaming such bigoted and un-American attitudes. As such, we urge Governor Patterson to reject any insinuation of collective guilt by standing up for the rights of Muslim New Yorkers to build an Islamic center anywhere in our state. To oppose any house of worship without evidence of wrongdoing makes mockery of the first amendment.”
Faiza N. Ali, Council on American-Islamic Relations-NY Community Affairs Director

“I am a Jewish Israeli-American who has created dialogue between Jewish people, Muslims and people of many backgrounds here in NY. I have been personally affected by terrorism, and that is all the more reason why I support the freedom of religion and right to property guaranteed by the Constitution which New Yorkers cherish. The Dialogue Project and I fully support Park 51, a cultural and spiritual center proposed in the spirit of cooperation.”
Marcia Kannry, Founder, Dialogue Project

“Nothing less than the right to pray where you want and when you want and how you want is at stake here. Religious people of all persuasions remember only too well what happens when religious freedom is polluted by those who think they know what is right. Religious people are less interested in being ‘right’ than in love, truth, peace and freedom. This is a moment in American history that will either make us proud or ashamed. I am praying for pride. I welcome Moslems to the great religious mosaic that is America.”
The Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper, Senior Minister, Judson Memorial Church

“The Shalom Center vigorously supports not only the Constitutional right to create a Muslim-rooted cultural center at Park51, but the rightness and wisdom of lifting to consciousness the commitment to peace and to interfaith dialogue of its founders and the active practice of those principles in Lower Manhattan. Bruchim ha’ba’im b’shem shalom – Blessed are those who come forward in peace.”
Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Director, The Shalom Center

“Religious freedom is one of America’s most fundamental liberties, and a central principle upon which our nation was founded. Especially in times of controversy, we as New Yorkers and Americans must vigilantly uphold our core values, including a faith community’s right to build a house of worship, whether a mosque, a church, or a synagogue. Preventing Muslims or any other group from freely practicing their faith is unconstitutional and goes against the very core of American freedom.”
New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman

“Inclusion of all human beings and their beliefs is the path to real democracy and a nonviolent future.”
Convergence of Cultures/NY

“Stereotyping and ignorance fuel violence and terrorism. We believe that the only chance for real security for United States and the world comes through building dialogue, understanding, and unity among those who seek peace.”
Brooklyn for Peace

“Lower Manhattan Democrats (LMD), an organization whose members are downtown residents with a progressive agenda, strongly supports the Coalition Organizing Principles. Further, we deplore and reject the blatant and opportunistic efforts of certain local and national politicians to exploit the proposed Parc51 project as a political ‘wedge’ issue by appeals to fear, hatred and religious intolerance. All Americans, regardless of political affiliation, should recognize the paramount importance of the religious freedoms guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and remember that our nation was founded by people attempting to escape religious persecution.”
Lower Manhattan Democrats

“America was founded – and has been sustained – on the Constitutional principles of religious freedom, tolerance and plurality. These core values require that all Americans, regardless of faith, be able to freely practice their religion. The Brennan Center for Justice, located near Ground Zero, believes that Muslim Americans’ right to build an Islamic community center and mosque on private property in lower Manhattan is unquestionable.”
The Brennan Center for Justice

“We fear what we don’t know. Let us turn this time of misunderstanding into an opportunity to reach out to each other, dispel misconceptions and embrace our commonalities.”
Muslim Consultative Network

“Discrimination has no place in our society, and upholding the constitutional right to religious freedom is not optional. We must not assist those who seek to undermine our country by betraying our most fundamental American liberties.”
Dan Mach, American Civil Liberties Union

“It seems like when a disaster happens, we look for someone to blame. After Pearl Harbor, we incarcerated Japanese Americans because we thought they were all responsible for bombing Pearl Harbor. Now we are doing the same thing. As Americans we should learn from our mistakes so that we don’t repeat them again. The people who live in the community should be the ones making the decisions. Because they are the ones that will get to use the community center, and will see it day in and day out. We are looking for peace, not war. This interfaith, intercultural community center represents peace, calmness and solidarity.”
Stephen Bradley, Community Voices Heard

“People of all races, nationalities and beliefs died on 9/11. And of course it was a tragedy. But we still have to move on and love our brothers and sisters. Let this be the start of peace because the bickering back and forth is getting us nowhere. This center will show that people of all races and nationalities can still come together to establish peace and harmony. The rest of the world is watching what we are doing.”
Linda Williams, Community Voices Heard

“If there was a church being built, would there be a problem? If there was a synagogue, would there be a problem? This is not about keeping the neighborhood a shrine. If that were so, there wouldn’t be strip clubs in the area – there would only be places of worship! Attack Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, not Islam. And this is coming from a Jew!”
Ann Valdez, Community Voices Heard

“Freedom of expression is the heart of America; the First Amendment’s guarantees of free speech, press, religion and assembly constitute a national commitment to tolerance of unpopular ideas and those who espouse them. The politicians and commentators leading the fight against the center are stoking a mob movement that could scarcely be more un-American. Irresponsible candidates and politicians seek to politicize the tragedy of September 11 and inject fear into our elections. Our elections should be about competing solutions to the myriad economic and social challenges our country faces and not about ways to divide us through misinformation and stereotyping.”
Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause/NY

“The League of Women Voters of the City of New York believes in the individual liberties guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States. The League is convinced that individual rights now protected by the Constitution should not be weakened or abridged.”
League of Women Voters of the City of New York

“As a Lower Manhattan resident for 25 years, whose family lives 8 blocks from the World Trade Center site, I welcome the community center. Its leaders are beacons of tolerance and good faith, and have been positive forces in our neighborhood for decades. And I abhor the bigotry and anti-Americanism expressed by some of the politicians and others opposed to this center, many of whom have used this issue for cynical purpose.”
Bruce L. Ehrmann, Community Board #1 Member, Manhattan and Appointed Member, L.M.D.C. World Trade Center Memorial Committee

“Religious freedom and tolerance are founding principles of American democracy. To deny any New Yorker the right to meet and pray where he or she wishes is contrary to our shared values.”
Steven Carbo, Senior Program Director, Demos.

“MPAC is honored to stand in unity with the diverse members of this coalition to remind Americans of our commitment to religious freedom. We believe this is the civil rights moment for Muslims in this country. Just as Rosa Parks did not move to the back of the bus – MPAC believe that we should not be forced to move the location of Park51 to a ‘Muslims Allowed’ section of Manhattan. We urge increased understanding of Islam and its peaceful tenants as the best path forward.”
Muslim Public Affairs Council

“I do not believe this Islamic Community Center, with its particular goals and message, is an “affront to the memory of the victims of 9/11″ as some have claimed. Rather I believe this cultural center will be an affront to the hijackers themselves and to those who share their cause. My friends and colleagues who died on 9/11, died because in working together for common aims with those from multiple religions, races, and nationalities, they stood as a symbol of what the hijackers resented. This Community Center will be one of the most potent symbols we could ask for in the downtown vicinity of the World Trade Center Site, a symbol of our open society where we work together to create a community in which we all participate. I look forward to participating in this Center’s cultural activities when I once again work at the World Trade Center.”
B. Ruth Montgomery, 9/11 Survivor

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