Celebrating diversity before Turkey Day

Way, way back in November of 2002, I went to the Doral Arrowwood in Rye Brook to see the local unveiling of  “America’s Table,” a Thanksgiving reader developed by the American Jewish Committee.

The 15-page reader was designed to help any family, Jewish or not, add meaning to their Thanksgiving meal by discussing the immigrant experience in America.

Close to 50 people from different backgrounds took part, reading aloud. Several talked about the immigrant journeys of their ancestors.

I quoted Rabbi Alfredo Borodowski afterward: “Before I came to this breakfast, I felt weird. Now I feel normal.”

It was a unifying experience. That was the idea.

The Westchester chapter of the AJC has continued to hold annual Thanksgiving breakfasts since then. I’ve been to most of them, so I can tell you that it’s refreshing to hear people of different faiths and backgrounds talk about their stories — which often have striking similarities — just before one of the most American of holidays.

It is a simple yet effective and moving experience.

You can download “America’s Table” here.

This year’s breakfast is tomorrow morning at Manhattanville College. I’ll be the speaker. I only get 10 minutes or so — so I shouldn’t slow things down too much.

I’ll talk a bit about what I’ve learned from covering many groups of people over the years.

This year’s breakfast will also honor three organizations: the Duchesne Center for Religion and Social Justice at Manhattanville; Westchester Youth Councils; and Neighbors Link. Congratulations to them.

The AJC, the Westchester Jewish Council and Manhattanville on putting on this year’s breakfast.

Religion affects thinking on some issues more than others, poll finds

So our religious beliefs affect our thinking on some social issues more than others, according to a new poll from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Not a surprise, I suppose, but an interesting subject to consider.

The issue colored most by religion is same-sex marriage. 35% of respondents said religion was the most important factor in determining their position.

26% said their position on abortion was most influenced by religion. I would have expected the percentage to be much higher, at least 40%.

Religion is far from the chief influence on other hot-button subjects, such as government assistance to the poor (10%), immigration (7%) and the environment (6%).

The immigration result makes sense on at least one level. The Catholic Church is strongly in favor of immigration reform, including amnesty for illegal immigrants already here. Catholics make up a quarter or so of all Americans, but many have their own thinking on this most emotional issue of the day.

The Pew poll cover A LOT of ground. Check it out.

On the abortion question, the Pew people write: “On the issue of abortion, half of Americans (50%) say abortion should be legal in all (17%) or most (33%) cases while fewer, 44%, say it should be illegal in all (17%) or most (27%) cases. Support for legal abortion has edged upward since last 2009, when 47% said it should be legal in all or most cases.”

And on gay marriage: “On the issue of same-sex marriage, about four-in-ten Americans (41%) say they favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally while 48% are opposed. A slight majority of Democrats (52%) favor same-sex marriage, while independents are evenly split (44% favor, 45% oppose) and two-thirds (67%) of Republicans are opposed. Democrats are divided sharply along racial lines; 63% of white Democrats favor same-sex marriage, compared with just 27% of black Democrats and 46% of Hispanic Democrats.”

And on gays in the military:


By a two-to-one margin, most Americans support allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military (60% favor vs. 30% oppose). The level of support has been consistent in recent years. Majorities of Democrats (67%) and independents (64%) favor allowing gays and lesbians to serve in the military, while Republicans are more divided (47% favor and 43% oppose).

Large majorities of white mainline Protestants (68%), white Catholics (71%), Hispanic Catholics (60%) and the religiously unaffiliated (66%) favor allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military, while support is lower among white evangelical Protestants (43%) and black Protestants (46%). Even among the least supportive religious groups, though, less than half oppose allowing gays and lesbians to serve in the military.

Most New Yorkers oppose downtown Islamic cultural center, poll shows

Sixty one percent of New Yorkers oppose the so-called “Ground Zero mosque,” according to a poll released today by the Siena College Research Institute in Loudonville, N.Y.

Institute Director Don Levy says: “Large majorities of all New Yorkers, every party, region and age give a thumbs-down to the Cordoba House Mosque being built near the Ground Zero site. But only just over half of all New Yorkers, even city residents say they have been following the news about the proposed mosque closely.”

By “New Yorkers,” he’s talking about people across the state, not only people in the NYC region.

Here’s the rest of Levy’s comments:


Two of ten New Yorkers agree more with supporters that say the proposed Cultural Center would demonstrate the presence of moderate Muslims and serve as a monument to religious tolerance than with opponents that say the project is an offense to the memory of those killed in the attacks on 9/11 and that it displays unacceptable insensitivity.  Nearly four in ten agree more with the opponents and 38 percent think both sides have a legitimate case.  Over half of all New Yorkers and NYC residents either agree that the project would promote tolerance or are, at least, willing to listen.

But when it comes to a yes or no vote, more than a quarter of those that agree with the supporters, nearly half of those that see both sides and virtually all of those that question the appropriateness of the Mosque currently vote ‘No’ on the project.


The Institute also said that 52 percent of New Yorkers would favor an immigration law like the one passed in Arizona.

Other findings on immigration, according to a release:


Seventy percent of New York residents say that the presence of 10 to 20 million illegal immigrants poses a somewhat (30%) or very significant (40%) problem to the U.S.,  and large majorities call for comprehensive immigration reform that would include enhanced border security (79%), the creation of a process for admitting legal temporary workers (70%), and implementing a tough but fair path to legalization for those already here (65%).

Clergy at the courthouse (but nothing bad happened)

Today is “Westchester Clergy Day” at the Westchester County Courthouse.

According to a release, the program is “designed to educate and inform the leaders of Westchester’s religious communities of the services offered by the Judiciary, the District Attorney’s Office, and other governmental agencies operating in Westchester County.”

The release goes on to say that the day will focus on the “interactions” that clergy most commonly have with the court system. Some of these are said to include: “privileged communications with congregants, clergy’s obligation to report criminal matters, housing issues, immigration issues, and pressing family law issues (including domestic violence, abuse/neglect, and adoption).”

Here’s the bottom line, I guess: “The more familiar members of the clergy are with the criminal and civil court process, the better equipped they will be to assist members of their congregation if the need should arise.”

Talking faith and immigration

WASHINGTON — I’m a little slow getting going here at the Religion Newswriters Association’s annual gathering. I was late getting to D.C. (traffic, getting lost). And I’ve had some technical issues this morning…

But I’m here with a few hundred other religion journalists.

We’ve just heard a really interesting, somewhat heated, presentation on the Great Immigration Debate.

J. Kevin Appleby, the immigration point man for the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference (and one of the major religious voices on the issue), laid out the main reasons for Catholic support for immigration reform: Jesus said “I was a stranger and you welcomed me;” the Catholic Church is an immigrant church; it’s a humanitarian issue; it’s a global issue, not just a U.S. issue; and “there is suffering going on that we see every day.”

His opponent was Roy Beck, a former United Methodist communications guy who is founder/CEO of NumbersUSA, a group that contends that illegal immigrants take away jobs from Americans, drive down wages and hurt the economy.

“We agree with the idea that everybody who happens to show up in a church is a person in the eyes of God,” Beck said. “Once you’ve said that, where do you go with it?”

Beck compared illegal immigrants to shoplifters, saying they are not violent, may be hurting economically, and believe they are only taking from big, rich corporations.  “But shoplifting adds up to a lot,” he said. “All consumers share the cost.”

Beck wants serious verification at workplaces of worker status.

Appleby said that the U.S. has spent $33 billion on border enforcement since 1994. “We have a disfunctional system that has a sign at the border that says ‘Keep out’ and has a sign at the workplace the says ‘Help wanted.’ ”

The U.S. Catholic bishops want to see legalization for the 12 million illegal immigrants now here.  Appleby said they should pay fines and back taxes and have to work for years before becoming eligible for green cards.

There was some talk about the rhetoric out there on the immigration issues — what’s racist and what’s not. Beck said that his group opposes immigrant bashing and said that it’s hard to be in the same camp with people like David Duke.

Everyone did agree that the presidential candidates are avoiding the immigration issue at all costs (except in Spanish language ads, where each blames the other guy). Appleby noted that the Hispanic community could play a role in deciding which way certain states go…

The Catholic divide on immigration

I wondered yesterday whether the pro-immigrant outspokenness of Catholic bishops is affecting the outlook of Catholics in the parishes and pews.

I, for one, don’t see much evidence of it.

NCR’s John Allen deals with this issue directly in his coverage of this week’s Catholic conference in Washington about immigration (attended by Cardinal Egan and other cardinals). He writes:

These may be tough times in the broader culture, but Catholic activists can take comfort from the strong show of episcopal support for immigration reform this week. In addition to Mahony, Cardinals Edward Egan of New York and the emeritus Cardinal of Washington, Theodore McCarrick, spoke at the July 28-31 conference, and Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Refugees, is on hand to offer Vatican backing.

donald-kerwin_tv_29may07_21.jpg“The bishops have been prophetic on these issues,” (Donald) Kerwin (of the of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network) said (pictured). “They’ve given us immense amounts of support and cover, often at great expense in terms of the hostile reactions they’ve received.”

Observers say that opinion at the Catholic grassroots, on the other hand, is more divided. The U.S. bishops are currently planning to commission a poll of Catholic attitudes on immigration, but scattered indications suggest that Catholics aren’t much different from the general public.

In 2004, for example, voters in Arizona adopted a measure requiring proof of citizenship before anyone can register to vote or apply for public benefits. The proposition passed by 56 percent to 44, and exit polls suggest that margin included 55 percent of Arizona Catholics.

“There’s a large percentage of Catholics who need to go through a conversion process” with regard to immigration, said Martin Gutierrez of Catholic Charities in New Orleans. Guttierez said many Catholics share negative perceptions of the broader culture, such as that immigrants take jobs away from American citizens, or that they don’t want to learn English or to integrate into American society – all of which, he said, is largely false.

Soto conceded the point.

“Many Catholics have been persuaded by the more visceral arguments against immigrants offered in the media and by some politicians,” he said.

Soto expressed confidence that education can bring Catholics around, beginning with reflection on what the church is doing on the ground to welcome new arrivals.

“There’s a popular saying that you should practice what you preach. I agree with that, but I also think there’s a certain virtue in preaching what we practice,” Soto said.

“The Catholic community has been very successful in integrating and assimilating large immigrant and refugee communities. We are a counter-point to the fear and anxiety the broader society often feels,” he said. “We haven’t stopped serving immigrants and refugees in our social service agencies or in our hospitals, and people understand the reasons why we do that.”

“The virtue of our practice can help to deflect some of the more poisoned polemic that’s out there,” Soto said.

Catholic bishops next door speak out on immigration

The Catholic bishops of Connecticut recently released a statement on immigration. It’s called “To See the Immigrant Through the Eyes of Faith.”

I wrote a few months ago that the religious leaders of New York were preparing a statement on immigration. It was supposed to be ready for Christmas.

The statement has been been delayed and delayed, but I’m told that it will be coming soon.

Anyway, the Connecticut bishops, in part, say:

We call on all Catholics to distance themselves from viewing immigrants to our nation, including undocumented immigrants, in terms and actions that reflect hate, racism and popular misconceptions. Most immigrants to our nation, especially those who are undocumented, flee their homeland because of extreme poverty, violence, persecution, or natural disaster. This movement of people from one place to another has remained a constant feature of human history. From a person’s human dignity flow basic human rights, including the right to leave one’s country and find a new place to live and work. In Catholic social teaching, these rights are not given by a government; they are inherent in the human person. In the United States, such immigration has shaped and will continue to shape significantly our economic, political, and cultural development. We are all well aware that our own nation is one built by immigrants fleeing poverty and searching for new opportunities.

It’s a statement that will make a lot of people angry, no?

Catholic Church increasingly Latino (as we know)

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has a nice analysis of the “state of the Catholic Church” in the U.S. as the papal visit nears, drawn from its recent study of religion in America and other sources.

Here are a few nuggets about the immigration influence:

The vast majority (82%) of Catholic immigrants to the U.S. were born in Latin America, and most Catholic immigrants from Latin America (52% of all Catholic immigrants to the U.S.) come from just one country — Mexico. Catholics are also well represented among immigrants coming to the U.S. from Western Europe, Eastern Europe and East Asia; more than one-in-four of all immigrants from these regions are Catholic.

Recent demographic analyses conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center indicate that the Latino share of the U.S. population will grow significantly in the coming decades. Indeed, there are likely to be nearly 130 million Latinos in the U.S. by the year 2050 — more than three times the size of the Latino population in 2005 (42 million). These estimates project that Latinos will account for 29% of the U.S. population by 2050, up from 14% in 2005.

As the Latino share of the U.S. population grows, the proportion of American Catholics who are Latino is likely to grow as well. The Landscape Survey finds that Latinos now account for nearly a third (29%) of all Catholic adults in the U.S. Perhaps more significantly, Latinos account for nearly half of Catholics under age 40. In contrast, older Catholics are predominantly white. For example, only 12% of Catholics age 70 and older are Hispanic.


Graphic source: Pew Forum