Statement from Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity On recent African American church fires – July 2, 2015

The winds of change are not blowing very hard when it comes to attitudes about the Confederate flag. Thus, it may not be too surprising to see the rise of vicious and hateful acts of burning Black churches across the South. 20 years ago, a rash of church fire bombings caused the nation to pause and wonder why the attacks occurred.

52 years ago, in Birmingham, Alabama, four little Black girls were killed in their Sunday school class when a bomb with a minimum of 15 sticks of dynamite was placed under the steps of the 16th Street Baptist. That savage attack was labeled “an act of white supremacist terrorism.”

Although the recent black church burnings are under investigation, at least three have been declared arson. Whether or not these latest assaults are tied to the controversy over removing the Confederate flag from state and public buildings, history suggests the church burnings may be hate crimes fueled by attitudes of racism and white supremacy.

According to a CNN ORC poll, 57 percent of Americans say the Confederate flag is a symbol of Southern pride and not racism.

The Confederate flag was unfurled in some Southern states during the Civil Rights movement in protest to the progress Black people were making to breakdown segregation. But, more disturbing today are indicators across the country of a major divide between Blacks and Whites in perception of racism. It is the apparent proximity to the victims of the church burnings that separate attitudes along racial lines.

For Black Americans, the burning of black churches and the massacre of black parishioners during Bible study in Charleston, South Carolina, hit very close to home and reminds Black folk of a history and legacy of violence. It is not lost on many Black people that the arrival of Black African ancestors were violently forced from their homelands, strapped to the hull of ships, brought to America across the Atlantic Ocean against their will, and brutally enslaved, legally, for more than three hundred years.

The Emancipation Proclamation signed by President Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves on certain conditions but did not prevent the enactment of Jim Crow, legalized segregation, the rise of public lynching, and the subsequent struggle to end discrimination.

While a majority of Whites see the Confederate flag as a symbol of Southern pride, there is an apparent blind eye and a loss of memory about the declaration of war against the Union. In today’s vernacular, it was domestic terrorism that divided the nation in a civil war with a well-organized strategy to bring down the government of the United States of America.

As a society, a warning cry is sounded in this precarious and dangerous period that the protracted movement by hate groups pose a threat against Blacks, Muslims, immigrants, gays, and other people they deem targets of their hatred.

Now is the time to determine which path the nation will take into the future: tolerating racism, bigotry, and violence; or, recognizing “every human person is sacred across all borders.

” We really do have a choice in this matter. Which way, America, will we go?


(Veasey Conway / Morning News)


Victory for Access to SF Immigration Court: Clergy Can’t be Shut Out


written by Megan Sallomi, ACLU Northern CA & Rev. Deborah Lee, ICIR-IM4HumanIntegrity

In times of crisis, many people rely on their religious leaders for support. Yet, until recently, private security and court bureaucrats refused to permit pastors to accompany children and families to their hearings at the San Francisco Immigration Court. Even more disturbing, the denial of access was in apparent retaliation for the pastors’ participation in a peaceful vigil outside the building.

Access denied

In the fall of last year, the  Interfaith Coalition of Immigrant Rights began holding regular vigils outside of the San Francisco immigration court to silently protest and draw public attention to the government’s practice of shuffling thousands of families and unaccompanied minors through rapid-fire immigration court proceedings, with little regard for their legal rights or the danger they may face on return to their home countries.

As part of the vigils, clergy and other members also support families attending these hearings by handing out lists of pro bono service providers to families without attorneys and giving children stuffed animals and coloring books on their way into court.

Many children and families endured harrowing experiences of persecution and violence and relive the trauma through testimony at court – often with no one present to support them, not even a lawyer. On occasion, families request that the pastors accompany them to their hearings to provide spiritual and moral support.

Disturbingly, building security at the San Francisco Immigration Court forbade pastors who participated in the peaceful vigils from accompanying the families to their court hearings in what we saw as blatant retaliation, even though both activities are strongly protected by our country’s First Amendment.

Barring clergy from attending immigration hearings carries with it serious constitutional implications and takes an emotional toll on families fighting for their right to refuge in this country. In response to these events, the ACLU of Northern California sent a letter to the immigration court and building management urging them to comply with the law and permit pastors to accompany immigrant families to court. In response, the Court Administrator quickly agreed that the pastors should be allowed to enter the building and accompany families during their hearings.

We welcome their decision and will remain vigilant to ensure that building staff hold true to their word and that everyone’s constitutional rights are respected.

The First Amendment and federal regulation guarantees the public’s right to attend most immigration court hearings (with a few specific exceptions). If you believe this right is being violated, please contact us.

Megan Sallomi is a Legal Fellow at the ACLU of Northern California. Reverend Deborah Lee is the Director of the Interfaith Coalition of Immigrant Rights.


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