Catholic, Jewish Leaders Decry Vandalism in Middle East

Religious Forum Responds to Attacks Against Churches, Mosques

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WASHINGTON, D.C., Nov. 5, 2012 ( Jewish and Catholic leaders voiced concern over crimes of vandalism against religious communities, especially recent attacks against Christian churches and Muslim mosques in Israel.

During the semi-annual consultation of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and the National Council of Synagogues (NCS), held last month at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, discussions focused on the need to prosecute religiously-motivated violence and eliminate the teaching of contempt for other religions from textbooks and curricula.

The dialogue was chaired by Rabbi David Straus of the Main Line Reform Temple in Philadelphia, Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta, and Bishop Denis Madden, auxiliary bishop of Baltimore and chairman of the USCCB Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Activities.

Speaking on «A Jewish Perspective of Religion in the Public Square,» Washington attorney Nathan Lewin addressed such concerns as the right of an Orthodox Jew to wear a yarmulke while in military service or that of a person to display a Menorah or other religious symbol on public property, as well as the role of religion in education. Lewin voiced personal opposition to any government attempt to coerce hospitals and religious institutions to violate their consciences in the pursuit of federal grants.

Stephen Colecchi of USCCB’s Office of International Justice, Peace and Human Development responded that religion’s role in society is to form and mobilize public conscience, citing examples of the key role religion played in battling apartheid in South Africa and racism in America via non-violent means.

Robert Destro of Columbus School of Law of The Catholic University of America (CUA) proposed religious freedom is the cornerstone of human rights and expressed fear that government intrusion in the form of taxpayer dollars funding birth control may carry over to issues like assisted-suicide in the future.

Richard Foltin, director of the National and Legislative Affairs of the American Jewish Committee, responded by drawing a distinction between an «avowedly secular state» and a «secular state,» praising the separation of church and state. He voiced opposition to the use of public dollars for private and parochial schools, warning that people ought not to use the power of the state to coerce others to their beliefs.

The two-day event concluded on a theological note with a group Scripture study exploring the topic of «covenant» as understood in Jewish and Catholic traditions. The study was led by Rabbi David Sandmel of the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago and Robert Miller of CUA.

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