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A Tale of Two Protests

This past week I traveled to El Paso, Texas with the Albuquerque Teachers Federation to protest the detaining of children from immigrant families. The first day’s events featured speakers from all the Abrahamic religions. Quoting passages from holy text, the theological speakers denounced inhumane policies that were designed to traumatize their victims in what appears to be cruelty for cruelty sake. The aim was clear for the righteous representatives of their faith, that they have the moral high ground; all supported by the words of God or any one of the many prophets. The fence to the facility was open and members of the group that had come to the rally were conversing with the guards. It was a kumbaya moment as the establishment figures from both sides could see eye to eye.

As we pulled up to the detention facility on the second day of protests, I could see hundreds of energized activists from the group “United We Dream” donning their bright orange t-shirts. The temperature was over one hundred degrees, but the crowd had a youthful exuberance that ascended beyond weather conditions. The speeches and chants were secular and factually accurate, identifying a variety of human rights issues that the US refuses to address: homophobia, police violence against blacks and latinos, and poverty. These issues have only been exacerbated by Trump’s policies which promote white nationalism. During this protest, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officers had the gates closed. United We Dream was bringing it to the DHS agents and the authorities were in retreat.  

The difference between the first day’s strategy of religious groups coming together to support the rights of immigrants and that of the energized, secular, youth movement was stark. I often found myself wincing after religious leaders quoted from scriptures that have little to no credibility with historians or historic fact. Can we really confirm that God or any one of his prophets said these things?  I support the progressive agenda of the Poor People’s Campaign, but when I see Reverend Barber wearing a shawl that says “Jesus was poor” on it, I ask “how do you know?” Although they are on the right side of the issues, they weaken their argument by using unproven facts. Tying together the case that the US has a long history of inhumane acts against people of color with religious figures blurs the line between fact and fiction. Let’s remember that Jeff Sessions is also using the bible to strengthen his argument that the government has the right to imprison innocent children.

Of course there is a place for spiritual beliefs in one’s life. However, these are private aspects of our lives in which we join together with people that share our views to find comfort.  A line must be drawn between faith and facts. Our government and society are better functioning when secularism is maintained; it allows for better deliberations on issues. Any and all arguments deteriorate when we start quoting from the scriptures. Here is a quote from the bible that is troubling to say the least, “This is what the Lord Almighty says… ‘Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’” (1 Samuel 15:3). This passage appears to approve genocide against neighboring people. Holy scriptures are riddled with contradictions that are meaningless to us when we have real data and historical facts to support human rights arguments. Props must be given to “United We Dream” for leading the way with secular, factual explanations to end racist policies. The older religious establishment figures need to follow their lead by staying focused on what is real.

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Robert Feuer is a high school teacher in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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