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Gathering will stress religious harmony

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An event to promote religious unity in the aftermath of weekend church graffiti incidents will be Monday.

The gathering, called Shoulder to Shoulder, is being organized by Interfaith Forum Columbus and will be from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Monday on the steps of Columbus City Hall, Second and Washington streets.

Shoulder to Shoulder is based on the idea that when people of differing beliefs and backgrounds stand shoulder to shoulder in respect for diversity, harmony reigns, according to organizers.

Previous Shoulder to Shoulder events have been held locally. One, featuring brief remarks from several people and a song, was in response to Sikh temple shootings near Milwaukee two years ago.

Christine Lemley of Interfaith Forum is finalizing details about the event’s agenda, speakers and other elements. Her first order of business has been spreading the word.

Lemley and other organizers are encouraging people of all faiths, ethnic groups and other segments of the diverse Bartholomew County community to attend “and stand in unity about this issue.”

Leaders of the Ecumenical Assembly of Bartholomew County churches are publicizing the event among Christian congregations. Some members of the Islamic Society of Columbus plan to attend.

The event represents local leaders’ unified reaction to Muslim-oriented graffiti spray-painted Saturday on the exterior of St. Bartholomew Catholic Church, East Columbus Christian Church and Lakeview Church of Christ.

David Carlson, a Franklin College professor of philosophy and religion, is helping with the event, as he has done for similar gatherings here. He has long been an outspoken proponent of interfaith dialogue and harmony.

“Whoever is responsible for the graffiti on the three churches is intent on stirring up fear and even hatred between peoples of faith,” Carlson said. “The graffiti is meant to separate us as people of faith, to drive a wedge between our communities. In response, our gathering together shoulder to shoulder informs the Columbus community that we, as people of diverse faiths, will not be divided from one another.

“Our gathering is a public witness to the community that we are committed to religions building bridges of understanding rather than walls of separation and suspicion.”

In an effort to help people of all faiths feel safe about their beliefs or worship, Aida Ramirez, director of the Columbus Human Rights Commission, said she welcomes meeting with “any and all individuals and groups to make reports as needed” if people feel a hate crime has been committed.

The Columbus Police Department is its continuing an investigation into the church vandalism.

Columbus police are characterizing the incidents as vandalism because at this point there is no information pointing to anything other than that, said Sgt. Matt Harris, department spokesman.

Harris said there were no new developments in the case Wednesday.

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