Interfaith seminar focuses on religious freedom

February 05, 2003|by MARLO BARNHART

If there was any central, agreed-upon theme emerging from Tuesday night's interfaith forum, it was that community - living in peace with each other - is more important than any one ideology.

"There are times when we must protect what we prefer and what we do not prefer," said the Rev. Don Stevenson, who addressed the role of Christianity at the forum at Hagerstown Community College. "We must not become what we hate."

Approximately 100 people of diverse faiths braved cold February winds to hear Stevenson, pastor of Christ's Reformed Church; Rabbi Janice Garfunkel of Congregation B'nai Abraham; and Imad A. Ahmad, a teacher of religion and freedom at the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University, on the issues of church and state.


Questions included whether extremism is ever justified, to which Ahmad replied that Islam teaches moderation is excellence - the straight path.

According to the Rev. Ed Poling, representative of the Interfaith Coalition of Washington County, the concept of dialogue is especially important in the times in which we live when paranoia often overwhelms calmer heads.

"I recall on Saturday that one of the first questions raised after the shuttle disaster was whether an act of terrorism was responsible," Poling said as he opened the forum.

Stevenson shared his historical research on how America's founders worked tirelessly to make sure the U.S. Constitution was and is a godless document.

"I, too, believe in the separation Fof church and state," Stevenson said. "The U.S. Constitution wasn't written by godless men but they were wise to what religion could do to freedom."

Ahmad agreed that while it is vital to bring religious ethics into political lives, all must be free to follow his or her own conscience or no one is free.

"But calling for the absence of religion is dangerous - calling for religious freedom is better," Ahmad said.

Garfunkel said Jews wonder what God wants us to do with the time we have on this earth.

"We have a term for it - repairing the world - or trying to leave the world better than we found it," Garfunkel said.

Similarly, Ahmad said the Islam faith tells its followers to stop evil when they see it.

"But if you can't stop it, you should speak against it or at least detest it in your heart," he said.

Tuesday's forum will be followed by additional meetings geared toward smaller discussion groups planned for March 4 and April 1, both at 7 p.m., at the Frostburg Center in downtown Hagerstown.

More information can be obtained by contacting Poling at 301-733-3565 or Dr. Shahab Siddiqui at 301-791-2510 or 301-714-2192.

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