By Kevin O’Connor, VTDigger
The problem began last summer, when one of two black members of the Vermont Legislature received racially charged emails and tweets, and has continued as late as this week, when a Middlebury Jewish congregation found a swastika on its front door.
Now an alliance of Green Mountain State religious congregations wants it to end.
Several dozen clergy members from the Vermont Interfaith Action coalition gathered at the Statehouse on Friday, Nov. 18, to condemn hate and call for “A Sabbath of Listening and Moving Toward Healing” the weekend of Jan. 6-8.
“Like so many people, I am deeply troubled by the amount of hateful language and actions that are occurring,” said the Rev. Dr. Lynn Bujnak, head of the Vermont Conference of the United Church of Christ. “All of the major religions understand there is a duty to be respectful and love our neighbor. This is a time for all of us to stand together.”
The nonpartisan coalition of more than 40 spiritual communities encompassing 10,000 members from Brattleboro to Burlington first learned of election-related hate in August, when Democratic state Rep. Kiah Morris of Bennington received several obscene and racially charged emails and tweets.
“A lot of representatives were concerned and started hearing of other hate speech and actions,” said the Rev. Debbie Ingram, the coalition’s executive director, who just won election to the Vermont Senate. “They wanted to do something, but didn’t want to make it political.”
In the days since last week’s election, swastikas have appeared at Middlebury’s Havurah House and the University of Vermont’s Hillel Center — the latter spray-painted on a Donald Trump lawn sign.
In response, spiritual leaders spoke out Friday against “hate speech or actions directed toward any Vermonters on the basis of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or political beliefs.”
And Rabbi Amy Small of Burlington’s Ohavi Zedek Synagogue: “Much as our passion for change is present among all of us, it’s going to take time and it’s going to take work.”
And Islamic Society of Vermont member Muhaideen Batah: “I am Muslim, but I’m also American Muslim. I work and I pay my taxes. All this fear is based on ignorance.”
The group also called on Vermonters to join “A Sabbath of Listening and Moving Toward Healing” the weekend of Jan. 6-8.
“We know this can only begin,” said the Rev. Joan Javier-Duval of the Unitarian Church of Montpelier, “if we first bear witness to one another’s pain and listen with love and respect.”
Vermont Interfaith Action held its event a day after Gov. Peter Shumlin and his soon-to-be successor, Phil Scott, issued a joint pledge to “defend the rights and freedoms of all; set an example for the nation to follow; and stand united in our commitment to move forward.”
On Friday, outgoing House Speaker Shap Smith stood beside clergy to read a statement he hoped fellow legislators would support. “There is no doubt that the decisions of our incoming president and the next Congress may impact federal support for Vermonters from all walks of life,” it said in part, “and we are committed to working diligently with every resource we have, and with all partners nationally and locally to lead our state through the challenges we may face.”
Senator-elect Ingram, added: “I think we are all on the same page on this.”
Photo by Kevin O’Connor, VTDigger
Outgoing House Speaker Shap Smith addresses a Vermont Interfaith Action gathering against election-related hate Friday, Nov. 18, at the Statehouse in Montpelier. Several dozen clergy members from different faiths call for respect.