Category Archives: Law & Courts

Court says non-Jewish man can sue for anti-Semitic remarks

By STACY JONES and BEN HOROWITZ
c. 2012 Religion News Service
Reprinted with permission

(RNS)A New Jersey appeals court has ruled that a man who alleges he

endured anti-Semitic slurs can sue his former supervisors — even though he is not Jewish.

Myron Cowher, a former truck driver for Carson & Roberts Site Construction & Engineering Inc., in Lafayette, N.J., sued the company and three supervisors after he allegedly was the target of anti-Semitic remarks for more than a year.

Cowher, of Dingmans Ferry, Pa., produced DVDs that appear to show supervisors Jay Unangst and Nick Gingerelli making such comments in his presence as “Only a Jew would argue over his hours” and “If you were a German, we would burn you in the oven,” according to a state appeals court ruling handed down April 18.

The appeals court did not consider the merits of Cowher’s case, only whether he has standing to pursue it. The suit, alleging discrimination that created a hostile work environment, had been dismissed by a Superior Court judge who ruled that because Cowher was not a Jew, he could not sue.

However, the appeals court reversed the judge in its 3-0 decision, saying that if Cowher can prove the discrimination “would not have occurred but for the perception that he was Jewish,” his claim is covered by New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination.

The “proper question” in this case, the court said, is what effect the supervisors’ allegedly derogatory comments would have on “a reasonable Jew,” rather than on a person of Cowher’s actual background, which is German-Irish and Lutheran.

Employment attorneys say the ruling is significant in that it expands the scope of who can bring discrimination suits under the state law by allowing a person who is not actually a member of a protected class to pursue a claim.

The law has typically been used to protect people based on their actual age, race, religion or sexuality. Judges, like the one who initially ruled on the validity of Cowher’s suit, have sometimes dismissed cases when there’s a discrepancy between the alleged remarks and a person’s actual characteristics.

The alleged slurs occurred from January 2007 until May 2008, when Cowher left the company due to an unrelated disability, according to his attorney, Robert Scirocco.

Gingerelli, who still works for the company, and Unangst, who does not, could not be reached for comment. Both men denied that they perceived Cowher to be Jewish, the court said.

Unangst also said that “perhaps” he had commented to Cowher about “Jew money,” that he had called him a “bagel meister” and that he had used the Hebrew folk song “Hava Nagila” as the ring tone for calls on his cell phone from Cowher, the appeals court said.

Cowher testified he had told both men to stop the comments, but they had not, the court said. Cowher’s attorney said Cowher is pleased with the ruling and intends to go forward with the case.

Cowher stayed on the job for more than a year after the alleged comments began because “he needed the work,” Scirocco said. He added that Cowher is now working as a truck driver for another company.

(Stacy Jones and Ben Horowitz write for The Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J.

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Nixon felon and evangelical icon Charles Colson dies at 80

Chuck Colson in prison. Photo via Religion News Service archives.

By DAVID MARK and ADELLE M. BANKS
c. 2012 Religion News Service
Reprinted with permission

WASHINGTON (RNS) Charles W. Colson, the Watergate felon who became an evangelical icon and born-again advocate for prisoners, died Saturday (April 21) after a brief illness. He was 80.

Despite an early reputation as a cutthroat “hatchet man” for President Richard M. Nixon, Colson later built a legacy of repentance, based on his work with

Prison Fellowship, a ministry he designed to bring Bible study and a Christian message to prison inmates and their families.

Colson founded the group in 1976 upon release from federal prison on Watergate-related charges. Prison reform and advocating for inmates became his life’s work, and his lasting legacy.

Colson had undergone surgery on March 31 to remove a pool of clotted blood on his brain. On Wednesday (April 18), Prison Fellowship Ministries CEO Jim Liske told staff and supporters that Colson’s health had taken a “decided turn” and he would soon be “home with the Lord.”

Due to his illness, for the first time in 34 years, he did not spend Easter Sunday preaching to prisoners, his ministry said.

”For more than 35 years, Chuck Colson, a former prisoner himself, has had a tremendous ministry reaching into prisons and jails with the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ,” said evangelist Billy Graham in a statement. “When I get to Heaven and see Chuck again, I believe I will also see many, many people there whose lives have been transformed because of the message he shared with them.

He will be greatly missed by many, including me. I count it a privilege to have called him friend.”

In many ways, Colson’s life personified the evangelical ethos of a sinner

in search of redemption after a dramatic personal encounter with Jesus. He also embodied the evangelical movement’s embrace of conservative social issues, although often as a happy warrior.

Today, Prison Fellowship has more than 14,000 volunteers working in

President George W. Bush listens to Robert Sut...

President George W. Bush listens to Robert Sutton, left, a graduate of the Prison Fellowship Ministries InnerChange Freedom Initiative, during a roundtable discussion in the Roosevelt Room Wednesday, June 18, 2003. The initiative is is part of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice System and the new prisoner reentry and treatment program proposed by the Department of Justice. White House photo by Tina Hager (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

more than 1,300 prisons across the country. More than 150,000 prisoners participate in its Bible studies and seminars every year.

The organization founded by Colson also provides post-release pastoring for thousands of ex-convicts, and supplies Christmas gifts to more than 300,000 kids with a locked-up parent through its Angel Tree program.

Colson also founded Justice Fellowship, to develop what he called Bible-based criminal justice, and advocate for prison reform. In 1993, Colson won the $1 million Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, and donated the money to his ministry.

As recently as February, Colson was still contributing to political debates, writing an open letter with fellow evangelical leader Timothy George that criticized the Obama administration’s health care contraception mandate.

”We do not exaggerate when we say that this is the greatest threat to religious freedom in our lifetime,” he wrote with George, comparing the mandate to policies of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.

In 2009, Colson was a chief architect of the “Manhattan Declaration,” which advocated grass-roots resistance to abortion, euthanasia and same-sex marriage. He called the manifesto “one of the most important documents produced by the American church, at least in my lifetime.”

”The Christian’s primary concern is bringing people to Christ,” Colson told Christianity Today magazine in 2001. “But then they’ve got to take their cultural mandate seriously. We are to redeem the fallen structures of society.”

Colson also was a key figure in Evangelicals and Catholics Together, a network of religious leaders who found common ground supporting a “culture of life” and reaffirmed their stance in 2006 when they called abortion “murder.”

Religion was far from Colson’s mind during his early adult life, when his main passion was politics. A Boston native, Colson showed early signs of political acumen as a star debater in high school.

After graduating from Brown University, Colson enlisted in the Marines and rose to the rank of captain. Following law school and a stint in the Pentagon, Colson worked on Capitol Hill as a top aide to Sen. Leverett Saltonstall, R-Mass.

After serving on Nixon’s 1968 election team, Colson was appointed by the newly elected president as special counsel to the president. During Nixon’s first term, he was known as Nixon’s feared but respected “hatchet man.”

Colson once bragged of a willingness to “walk over my grandmother if necessary to assure the President’s reelection,” and was roundly known within the Nixon administration as the “evil genius.”

”I was known as the toughest of the Nixon tough guys,” he said in 1995.

Nixon himself described Colson as one of his most loyal aides. “When I complained to Colson I felt confident that something would be done, and I was rarely disappointed,” the former president wrote in his memoirs.

Among other activities, Colson helped set up the “Plumbers” to plug news leaks. The Plumbers engaged in illegal wiretapping of Democratic headquarters at the Watergate apartment complex, triggering the scandal that took down the Nixon White House.

Colson was also involved in the creation of the Special Investigations Unit, whose members broke into the office of Dr. Lewis Fielding, the psychiatrist of Dr. Daniel Ellsberg, who had given copies of the Pentagon Papers, a secret account of U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia, to newspapers.

Nixon aides justified the break-in on the grounds of national security, but

Colson later admitted that the agents were trying to dig up damaging information about Ellsberg before his espionage trial.

As the Watergate scandal mushroomed, Colson pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in 1974, and the felony led him to serve seven months of a one- to three-year sentence at Alabama’s Maxwell Prison as Prisoner 23226.

Colson later said he became a Christian before going to jail, and his time behind bars cemented his faith.

”There was more than a little skepticism in Washington, D.C., when I announced that I had become a Christian,” he said in 1995. “But I wasn’t bitter. I knew my task wasn’t to convince my former political cronies of my sincerity.”

In addition to his work with Prison Fellowship, Colson authored more than 30 books that sold more than 5 million copies, including his seminal 1976 autobiography, “Born Again.”

Colson became an evangelist for better prison conditions and championed what he called “restorative justice,” in which nonviolent criminals should stay out of jail, remain in the community where they committed their crime, and work to support their families and pay restitution to the victim.

Colson also forcefully advocated President Clinton’s impeachment and removal from office in 1998 over what he called perjury and obstruction of justice stemming from the Monica Lewinsky affair.

Southern Baptists to probe Richard Land’s Trayvon Martin remarks

Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, preaches Nov. 11 at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, where he earned a master's degree and met his future wife in the 1970's. Land often acts as a spokesman for the Southern Baptist Convention, articulating the denomination's positions on issues such as abortion, same-sex unions, bioethics and race relations. Photo by Bryan S. Berteau.

By ADELLE M. BANKS
c. 2012 Religion News Service
Reprinted with permission

(RNS) Southern Baptist leaders will investigate whether their top ethicist and public policy director plagiarized racially charged remarks about the Trayvon Martin case that many say set back the denomination’s efforts on racial reconciliation.

Richard Land, who leads the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission for the Southern Baptist Convention, was accused of lifting remarks for his radio show that accused Democrats and civil rights leaders of exploiting the case of the unarmed Florida teenager who was shot and killed by a volunteer neighborhood watchman.

Even though Land has apologized for both the remarks and not attributing their source, the commission’s executive committee said it was obligated “to ensure no stone is left unturned.” An investigatory committee will “recommend appropriate action” to church leaders.

“They need the Travyon Martins to continue perpetuating their central myth: America is a racist and an evil nation. For them it’s always Selma Alabama circa 1965,” Land said on his radio program, speaking of civil rights activists.

Those comments, included in a partial transcript published by Baptist blogger and Baylor University Ph.D. student Aaron Weaver, were previously written by Washington Times columnist Jeffrey Kuhner.

While conceding that talk radio has different attribution policies than traditional journalism or academic scholarship, “we nevertheless agree with Dr. Land that he could, and should, do a better job in this area,” the Executive Committee stated.

In a statement, Land said he serves “at the will of the trustees,” and “I look forward to continuing to work with and under the oversight of my trustees.” A commission spokeswoman said Land was not commenting beyond his statement.

The commission trustees, along with other Southern Baptist leaders, noted Land’s role in the passage of the 1995 resolution in which Southern Baptists apologized for their past defense of slavery. They also credited him for “engaging the culture and our political leaders on matters of religious conviction.”

Yet others have criticized Land, including the Rev. Fred Luter, the New Orleans pastor who’s expected to become the SBC’s first African-American president, who called the remarks “unhelpful.”

Ed Stetzer, a Southern Baptist researcher who blogged about Land’s comments without mentioning him by name, said the firestorm threatens to undo progress made by the overwhelmingly white denomination.

“The Southern Baptist Convention still must earn a better reputation for racial inclusion and justice,” Stetzer wrote. “As such, perhaps SBC denominational leaders are not the best persons to speak into racially charged situations, critiquing the actions of African Americans or African American leaders.”

Praying for God to hurt someone is not illegal, judge rules

By DAVID GIBSON
c. 2012 Religion News Service
Reprinted with permission

(RNS) Is it okay to ask God to do harm to another person? The theology of such “imprecatory prayer” may be a matter of debate, but a Dallas judge has ruled it is legal, at least as long as no one is actually threatened or harmed.

District Court Judge Martin Hoffman on Monday (April 2) dismissed a

Former Navy Chaplain Gordon James Klingenschmitt has used imprecatory prayer against his critics. Religion News Service file photo courtesy of Lt. Gordon James Klingenschmitt.

lawsuit brought by Mikey Weinstein against a former Navy chaplain who he said used “curse” prayers like those in Psalm 109 to incite others to harm the atheist and founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and his family.

Hoffman said there was no evidence that the prayers by Gordon Klingenschmitt, who had been endorsed for the Navy chaplaincy by the Dallas-based Chaplaincy of Full Gospel Churches, were connected to threats made against Weinstein and his family or damage done to his property.

According to the lawsuit, Klingenschmitt posted a prayer on his website urging followers to pray for the downfall of MRFF.

“I praise God for religious freedom because the judge declared it’s OK to pray imprecatory prayers and quote Psalm 109,” Klingenschmitt said after the ruling, according to The Dallas Morning News. Psalm 109 calls for the death of an opponent and curses on his widow and children, among other things.

Hoffman’s ruling did not actually turn on constitutional questions as much as it did on Weinstein’s claims that the prayers incited the threats and vandalism.

Headshot of Mikey Weinstein. Photo provided.

Weinstein, a former Air Force lawyer who started the foundation to battle what he sees as undue religious influence in the armed forces, said Friday (April 6) that “a very aggressive appeal is highly likely.” He said he has received numerous death threats, had swastikas painted on his house, and that his windows have been shot out and animal carcasses left on his doorstep as a result of his activism.

“We are disappointed in the ruling because we believe the judge made a mistake in not understanding that imprecatory prayers are code words for trolling for assassins for the Weinstein family,” Weinstein said. “I don’t think the judge understood that these are not regular prayers,” he added, comparing imprecatory prayer to a radical Islamic fatwa.

Imprecatory prayers have a long if complicated history in religious traditions. But this type of prayer, and Psalm 109 in particular, has become a hot topic since President Obama’s election as a number of religious conservatives have invoked it against him.

In the most recent case, the Speaker of the House of Representatives in Kansas, Mike O’Neal, sparked an outcry in January when he sent Psalm 109 to Republican colleagues, writing, “At last — I can honestly voice a biblical prayer for our president!”

“Thankfully, the district court recognized that if people are forced to stop offering imprecatory prayers, half the churches, synagogues and mosques in this country will have to be shut down,” said John W. Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, a legal advocacy group that helped defend the Chaplaincy of Full Gospel Churches.

After Trayvon Martin case, churches say ‘stereotypes cost lives’

Trayvon Martin Protest - Sanford

Trayvon Martin Protest - Sanford (Photo credit: werthmedia)

By ADELLE M. BANKS
c. 2012 Religion News Service
Reprinted with permission

(RNS) An umbrella group of Christian denominations committed to combating racism is urging churches to use the death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin as a “teachable moment” to speak out against racial stereotypes.

“It is a time to understand the burden that some of us have to live always facing the stereotypes of others and the danger that these stereotypes might cost us our lives,” wrote the 10 leaders of Churches Uniting in Christ in a statement released Wednesday (March 28).

“In humility, we invite the Body of Christ to join in serious self-examination about how our communities by our silence support racial profiling and stereotyping.”

CUIC called on churches to examine laws that may have contributed to the Feb. 26 death of Martin, a 17-year-old African-American who was unarmed. George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, admitted shooting Martin in Sanford, Fla., but law enforcement officials have not charged him, citing the state’s “Stand Your Ground” self-defense law.

“We cannot remain silent as our country once again struggles with the senseless killing of an unarmed young African-American boy,” the CUIC leaders said. “We write because we cannot remain silent at the continued ‘criminalization’ of black and brown peoples with laws that give license to people to shoot first and ask questions later.”

CUIC is composed of 10 mainline Protestant and historically black denominations, including the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church and others, with a special focus on overcoming racism.

Top leaders of the National Council of Churches also called for the aftermath of Martin’s death to be a time for introspection. “All of us — especially those who are white — must engage in urgent self-examination about the ways we react to persons we regard as ‘other,'” wrote NCC President Kathryn M. Lohre and Interim General Secretary Clare J. Chapman.

Some commentators have questioned whether white clergy took too long to add their voices to discussions about the case.

Although the Florida Council of Churches recently issued a statement about the case, “local white faith leaders have been missing from action in the movement for justice for nearly a month,” former Orlando Sentinel religion writer Mark Pinsky wrote in The Huffington Post.

 

 

N.C. Catholics make appeal to Raleigh legislators now reviewing state’s immigration laws

Msgr. David D. Brockman, Vicar General of the Diocese of Raleigh, presenting a statement on behalf of North Carolina’s Bishops to the House Select Committee on Immigration. Photo by Frank Morock

Editor’s Note: Writer Frank Morock works for the Catholic Diocese of Raleigh.

By Guest Contributor Frank Morock

The North Carolina House Select Committee on the State’s Role in Immigration Policy held a meeting at the N.C. Legislative Office Building in Raleigh, Wednesday (March 28), to hear public comment on immigration in the state. The 12-member committee, appointed by House Speaker Thom Tillis, is charged with studying and examining state immigration laws already in effect as well as best practices in other states.

The Rev. Msgr. David D. Brockman, Vicar General of the Diocese of Raleigh, presented a statement to the Committee on behalf of the Most Reverend Michael F. Burbidge, Bishop of Raleigh, and the Most Reverend Peter J. Jugis, Bishop of Charlotte. The statement explained Catholic social teaching on formation of a just immigration policy.

“This teaching is twofold,” Brockman explained. “First, we support the role of the federal government to regulate migration and to defend its borders and laws; and secondly, as Catholics, we advocate for the recognition that immigrants, as members of God’s human family, are deserving of and must be granted the appropriate dignity as our brothers and sisters in the Lord.”

The monsignor also noted how the Bible “clearly demonstrates that this God-given dignity is given to refugees, migrants, and to all those who are immigrants. Jesus himself was a refugee as a child and an itinerant during his public ministry. He taught us to welcome the stranger (Matthew 25:35) and to realize that in welcoming the stranger, we are welcoming Christ himself.”

The testimony presented at the hearing represented both sides of the issue. It clearly demonstrated the urgent need of the federal government to undertake major immigration reform. In his remarks, Brockman said without action by the federal government, states throughout the nation have attempted to address the issue legislatively on a local basis.

Pointing to a 2007 document issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Brockman cited the five principles featured in a document from both bishops that could serve as a guide in creating either a national or state immigration policy.

“Both Bishop Burbidge and Bishop Jugis acknowledge that there are many emotions which are often ignited by the immigration debate,” Brockman said, “ but together, they call on ‘all people of goodwill to continue to debate in the spirit of mutual respect, ever mindful that together we must work for peace and protect the dignity of each and every person.’”

At the conclusion of the meeting, Committee Co-Chair Rep. H. Warren announced that the committee will not delay its report to the House speaker until later in the year. He explained the decision is based upon the U.S. Supreme Court’s pending review of the Arizona immigration law during its current session and will hand down a decision by June. Rep. Warren said the committee will take the Supreme Court’s decision into consideration in preparing its recommendation.

Study offers view of religious life behind prison walls

Two inmates in the InnerChange Freedom Initiative at the Minnesota Correctional Facility-Lino Lakes, join together in prayer as part of the Christian-based program in their medium-security unit. The program developed by Prison Fellowship aims to reduce the chances they'll return behind bars, but has been labeled unconstitutional in a lawsuit. Photo by Steve Wewerka.

By ADELLE M. BANKS
c. 2012 Religion News Service
Reprinted with permission

WASHINGTON (RNS) Behind high prison walls and rolls of barbed wire, Muslim and pagan inmates are most likely to have extreme religious views and be the least assisted by religious volunteers.

Most prisoners who want religious books will get them, but wearing a beard is far less likely to be permitted. And the majority of chaplains who serve convicted murderers, thieves and other criminals are satisfied with their jobs.

Those and other findings form a snapshot of religious life behind bars in a report that was released Thursday (March 22) by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, based on the perceptions of 730 chaplains who serve in the nation’s state prison systems.

As the U.S. has grown more religiously diverse, the prison population has, too, but often in different directions, said Stephanie Boddie, a senior researcher on the study.

“The unaffiliated is growing in the general population but it’s decreasing in the prison population,” said Boddie, who noted the Pew findings are based on the impressions of chaplains rather than official prison statistics.

“We also have 1 percent of Muslims in the general population but in some of the prisons we had as high as 20 percent, and in some prisons they had 0 percent.”

The majority of chaplains reported a significant amount of “religious switching,” and said it’s common for inmates to try to convert other prisoners. But Cary Funk, another senior researcher with the study, said chaplains report that some of those conversions may be short-lived.

“Inmates can be motivated by things that on the outside we might take for granted but on the inside have a lot more value — things like special food, special holidays,” she said. “One chaplain put it that they were privilege-based conversions not religious-based conversions.”

While a sizable minority of chaplains says religious extremism is common among prisoners, only 4 percent said it “almost always” poses a threat to prison security. Muslim chaplains were less likely to say they had encountered widespread religious extremism.

Boddie said generally the chaplains were not dealing with what might usually be considered “extremism” by people outside prison walls.

“They don’t talk as much about some of the ways that possibly are more commonly thought of in terms of anti-government or anti-authority and violence,” she said.

The chaplains described extremism as intolerance of racial or social groups, religious exclusivity and particular requests for accommodation, such as asking for raw meat for a Voodoo ritual. Close to half said their prisons have consulted with experts about suspected religious extremism or provided extra supervision for religious meetings.

The vast majority of chaplains are Christian and they are mostly white, male, middle-aged and conservative in their theological and political beliefs. The chaplains often reported that they had more Christian volunteers than necessary but lacked Muslim, pagan and Native American volunteers.

Tom O’Connor, a former Oregon prison chaplain who runs the company Transforming Corrections, said more trained volunteers are needed to help move inmates away from anti-social behavior. But he said he was heartened to learn that researchers found that Muslim chaplains constituted 7 percent of the respondents, and cited a program at Hartford Seminary that is training new prospects.

“More and more, Islam is producing chaplains in America because we desperately do need more of them,” said O’Connor, who advised researchers on the study.

But O’Connor cautioned against lumping too many diverse beliefs together when considering what might be extreme behavior. In the Pew report, Muslims included the Nation of Islam, a movement founded on black pride and racial separation, and pagan and earth-based religions included Asatru, which is sometimes associated with white supremacists.

“I’ve never come across a racially superior-inclined Wiccan,” he said.

Prisoner requests for religious accommodation reflect a range of faiths. Chaplains said about half of the requests tend to be granted for special religious diets and sacred items such as turbans, crucifixes and eagle feathers.

Despite the lack of certain kinds of volunteers and the time spent on paperwork rather than religious services, about two-thirds of chaplains report high job satisfaction.

But they say work needs to be done. Hardly any think the prison system is doing an excellent job on preparing prisoners to re-enter society. And there is near consensus among the chaplains that first-time nonviolent offenders should be sentenced to community service or mandatory drug counseling instead of prison terms.

The survey was based on a response rate of about 50 percent from 1,474 chaplains who were asked to complete Web or paper questionnaires last year, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.6 percentage points.

Listen to WilmingtonFAVS story on WHQR today!

WHQR FM’s spring pledge drive is going on this week, and that’s a pretty hectic time for the NPR affiliate’s staff.

But the station still made some time for me to record a story there about the new prison chapel being built at Pender Correctional Institution in Burgaw. It airs today (March 21).

You can listen to it here.

-Amanda Greene

French Jews and Muslims grapple for answers to school shootings

By ELIZABETH BRYANT
c. 2012 Religion News Service
Reprinted with permission

PARIS (RNS) Children spilled out of Beth Hanna Jewish school under a spring sun and the watchful eyes of armed police. Leah Chicheportiche mingled with other waiting parents in this northeastern Paris neighborhood, including many men sporting the trademark black hat of Hasidic Jews.

“We’re a bit worried — even here in Paris — after the incident,” said Chicheportiche, a mother of five, keeping a watchful eye on two daughters licking ice-cream cones on Tuesday (March 20).

A day after a motorcycle gunman mowed down three children and a rabbi in the southern city of Toulouse, she added: “We hope they’ll arrest him quickly.”

As schools across France marked a moment of silence for Monday’s victims and the government notched up its terror alert for the southwestern region and increased security around religious institutions, many ordinary French are grappling for answers.

Monday’s shootings at the Ozar Hatorah Jewish school in Toulouse came days after the shooting deaths of three French soldiers of North African and Caribbean origins. Two were Muslim. Police say the same weapon was used in all the attacks. Now they are hunting down the killer — and the nation is searching for solace.

“It’s a very big shock and the most dangerous part is we don’t know where he is,” said Rabbi Mendel Azimov, who helps oversee Beth Hanna, which his father founded.

Azimov’s uncle runs Ozar Hatorah, where the killings took place. “It’s not just a community problem or a religious problem,” he said, “it’s a national problem.”

The shootings have seeped into a presidential campaign already checkered with sharp exchanges on immigration and religion — notably over Jewish and Muslim ritual animal slaughter practices. Both President Nicolas Sarkozy and his main rival, Socialist Francois Hollande, have suspended their campaigns following Monday’s shootings.

“Barbarity, savagery, cruelty cannot win. Hate cannot win,” said Sarkozy, who met with Jewish and Muslim leaders on Tuesday and vowed to find the killer.

France’s Muslim and Jewish communities — the largest in western Europe — are organizing a silent march to mark the killings on Sunday.

“This march has no sense unless it’s a joint march,” Richard Prasquier, head of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France.

But others fear the incidents may only deepen differences between the two faiths.

“It doesn’t unite us,” said Victor Levy, a Jew from North Africa who owns a stationery shop a block from Beth Hanna. “It only increases the doubts between the two communities, because each wonders if the other is racist. Little words against the other that shock, that create hatred between the two religions.”

Muslims and Jews have long been neighbors in this slightly grimy slice of Paris, known as the 19th arrondissement. In many ways, this neighborhood offers the face of 21st-century France: multicolored and multifaith.

Malians in traditional robes brush past ethnic Algerian Muslims and Tunisian Jews. Old men of all backgrounds play rounds of boules in playgrounds. Halal butchers and kebab joints vie for customers alongside kosher supermarkets and traditional bakeries.

Many Muslims and Jews here hail from the same area — North Africa. But this is perhaps the only neighborhood outside of Brooklyn where you can get carryout from Crown Heights Pizzeria.

“I’m Jewish, and the guy across from me is a Muslim,” said Levy, the stationery shop owner and a Sephardic Jew, pointing to a laundromat across the street. “We get along fine. But when people do idiotic things like what happened in Toulouse, it lights a fire.”

But across the street, Moroccan laundry owner Bijuegda Dris, disagreed.

“This has nothing to do with the communities,” he said. “The killer is just a crazy guy.”

Tensions between Muslims and Jews in France periodically erupt, mostly keeping pace with the Israeli-Palestinian standoff. Jewish synagogues and cemeteries have been attacked in recent years — either by gangs of Muslims or far-right youths, authorities say. Muslim institutions are also desecrated, often by neo-Nazis. Young Muslims and Jews occasionally clash.

But at Beth Hanna, Rabbi Azimov is focusing on healing. It is up to religious leaders, he said, to unite the two communities. Both must work to get beyond the killings.

“We have a special tradition that says that when bad things happen, you have to increase kindness and goodness and prayer,” he said. “We have a belief that when you have light, darkness disappears.”

A prison chapel that started with a plow – Pender Correctional breaks ground on its new chapel

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By AMANDA GREENE
WilmingtonFAVS

Since the future prison chapel at Pender Correctional Institution in Burgaw began as a community effort, with more than 100 local churches and individuals giving money, its groundbreaking today (March 14) was no different.

“At most groundbreakings, you see folks with their shiny silver or gold shovels turning a little bit of dirt,” said the prison’s contract Chaplain Jimmy Joseph. “But we have a lot of dirt to move today so you all get to be the mules.”

In the prison yard, about 30 corrections officials, leaders with N.C. Baptist Men, the Burgaw mayor and community members grabbed a long thick rope attached to an old farm plow with Joseph at the helm.

“And pull,” the chaplain shouted. Tug-of-war-style, attendees in coats, ties and skirts leaned back on their rope section, pulling that plow and breaking ground on the 4,200 square foot facility. The community has been planning and fundraising for this day for the last six years.

In his speech chronicling the long road to building the chapel, retired Chaplain James Spiritosanto said: “It took King Solomon 46 years to build the Temple, and I’m happy to report, we are ahead of schedule.”

The need for a chapel became apparent to the prison’s chaplains over years of trying to schedule the hundreds of inmates who wanted to participate in the prison’s faith curriculum into a classroom that will only fit 30 at a time.

The new building’s auditorium will seat 200. There are 768 inmates in the prison, Joseph said.

The chapel will also have two classrooms, offices for the chaplaincy staff, restrooms and storage space. A large stained glass window in the gable of the auditorium will capture eastern light in the mornings. The building will be a wood-framed structure with brick veneer to match the other buildings in the prison.

With the help of volunteer labor from N.C. Baptist Men, Joseph hopes to be cutting a grand opening ribbon on the chapel in six months. Pender’s chapel project is the first construction task inside a prison for the N.C. Baptist Men.

“We found it to be a worthy project. How could we say no?” said Gaylon Moss, coordinator of disaster relief and volunteerism for the group.

This project was also a first for the North Carolina Department of Corrections. Usually, the prison system takes bids from licensed contractors to complete prison building projects. But the majority of labor on this project will be volunteers, along with area contractors who are overseeing the construction.

His voice shaking with emotion, the project’s contractor Billy Soots told attendees, “I hope this project is a light to this community, to this campus and enriches the kingdom of God.”