Religious leaders on Long Island and the chairman of the Holocaust Memorial & Tolerance Center of Nassau County denounced the hate and violence of white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia, in recent days and called for tolerance and respect.
Bishop John Barres, spiritual leader of the Island’s 1.5 million Catholics, wrote that the nation “has been forced to confront the evil effects of racism.”
“The violence in Charlottesville did not develop in that moment or in one day. Rather the seeds of Saturday’s tragedy had been planted long before, going back far in the history of our nation,” Barres wrote in a statement posted on the Diocese of Rockville Centre’s website. “We can look upon last Saturday’s tragedy with a sense of great sadness and defeat. Or we can look at these events with the vision the Paschal Mystery brings us — a vision of healing, a vision of new life.”
Barres also wrote, “It is my prayer that the tragedies in Charlottesville will inspire each one of us to an examination of conscience that will help us better recognize our role in bringing about and restoring that dignity and sanctity in our world, nation and local communities, particularly here in the Diocese of Rockville Centre.”
The Holocaust center noted in its statement, “The display of Nazi symbolism and the racist hate speech are frighteningly redolent of prewar Germany.”
The statement continued, “As we recoil from the shock and horror that something like this could happen in 21st century America, it is critical that action be taken to overcome hate and fear, and to heal the divisions in our country. Each of us has a responsibility to do whatever we can to promote respect among people of all races, ethnicities, national origins and faiths.”
Steven Markowitz, the nonprofit center’s chairman, said Tuesday, “We felt it was important to be aware of the parallels between what happened then and what is happening now.”
The center, which is located in Glen Cove and celebrated its 20th year in 2016, highlighted its mission to educate people about anti-Semitism, intolerance, racism and bullying, and the educational programs it offers to adults and young people each year.
Dr. Isma Chaudhry, president of the Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury, one of the oldest and largest mosques on Long Island, called the violence and white supremacist march in Charlottesville appalling.
“The violence this weekend is nauseating — to see and hear that in this day and age we are dealing with a situation where people feel they are entitled to be a superior race than the rest of the people,” Chaudhry said Tuesday.
She also criticized President Donald Trump for not initially condemning the violence more forcefully.
“What is extremely sad is that our president did not come out strong and he did not make it clear. He just spread the blame,” she said in an interview before Trump made extensive comments at a Tuesday afternoon news conference. “The president of the free world should have the courage to stand up and say what it is: This was a hate crime.”
Bishop Lawrence Provenzano of the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island sent out an open letter last weekend directing that all liturgies “remember the people of Charlottesville, especially those targeted by the protests, and especially the bishops, clergy and people of the Diocese of Virginia as they provide protection and prayerful witness against the hatred, bigotry and violence of the far-right, white supremacist groups gathering and marching in Charlottesville.”
“The marchers in Virginia do not represent who we are as God’s people or citizens of this nation,” Provenzono wrote. “In the face of such evil and ignorance, the church must stand in prayer and witness to the all-inclusive love of Jesus Christ.”
The Cathedral of the Incarnation in Garden City, the seat of the Episcopal diocese, posted on its Facebook page the Twitter thread #prayersforcharlottesville, with the statement, “We may not be able to walk on water, but we were not created to drown in hate. Do not be afraid!” The diocese includes Queens and Brooklyn.
The country’s largest union of higher-education faculty and staff issued a strong statement against the white supremacists’ actions in Charlottesville, where a large group carried torches onto the historic University of Virginia campus on Friday night.
On Monday, Frederick E. Kowal, president of the United University Professions, a union representing more than 42,000 State of New York faculty and staff, said in a statement, “We reject racism, white supremacism, neo-Nazism, neo-Confederatism, the alt-right, and any and all fringe hate groups that seek to spread their anti-American doctrine.”
“The nation’s colleges and universities are open, welcoming places where ideas are sacred,” Kowal said. “The ugly fascist expressions and violence in Charlottesville are a direct assault on our work as educators, and our nation.”