Religious Diversity News

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Islam in Maine

Source: Portland Press Herald Online

On July 6, 1999, the Portland Press Herald Online
published an article on the Muslim population in Maine. Due to the
influx of immigrants to Maine from Somalia, Iran, Iraq, and Kosovo,
the Muslim population has grown to approximately 1,500. The Portland
Muslim community now has a masjid and sustains the New World Market,
the state’s only halal meat counter. The largest Muslim groups in
Maine are Afghans and Somalians, with immigrant groups also from
Egypt, Syria, Morocco, Iran, and Iraq.

Accommodating Religious Pluralism in the Military

Source: Chicago Tribune

On July 6, 1999, the Chicago Tribune published an article
on the difficulties experienced by the military in handling freedom
of religious exercise for military personnel. Encountering
problems with accommodating Muslims, Sikhs, and Wiccans, the military
has to follow a newly issued directive on the accommodation of
religious practices (the first since 1988), that widens the scope of
acceptable exemptions. Under the new guidelines, the Pentagon will
handle exemptions on an individual basis – a commanding officer can
grant these requests if they do not undermine military readiness,
discipline, safety or a unit’s mission. A major challenge to the
military in providing adequate religious services is the changing
role of the military chaplains. Capt. Russell Gunter, a Navy chaplain
who is executive director of the Armed Forces Chaplain Board at the
Pentagon, stated: “Chaplains are expected to accommodate the
religious exercise of everyone in the military regardless of whether
they agree with the theology of that faith group.” Jack Williamson,
the coordinator of the National Conference on Ministry in the Armed
Force in Arlington, Virginia, stated: “In the military it is not
uncommon to have a Roman Catholic priest, a rabbi, a Pentecostal
preacher and Lutheran pastor all housed in the same facility with
offices next door to each other and seeing the same people.” Adding
to the problem is that certain chaplaincies, particularly Catholic,
are in short supply. Of the incoming military personnel who do claim
a religious preference, roughly 53% are members of a particular
Protestant denomination, 32% are Roman Catholic, and 13% are Christian of no
denomination. The remaining 2% claim Eastern Orthodox traditions,
Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and other faiths.

Appointment of Muslim to National Counter-Terrorism Commission Creates a Stir

Source: Los Angeles Times

On July 5, 1999, the Los Angeles Times reported that the
appointment of Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim
Public Affairs Council in Los Angeles, by House Minority Leader
Richard A. Gephardt to a national counter-terrorism commission has
come under attack by major Jewish organizations. Muslim Americans
hail the appointment as a “sign that Washington is finally giving
them a voice in policymaking.” Al-Marayati looks forward to the
position: “I hope to broaden the discussion on terrorism by looking
at its root causes and enhance our effectiveness in combating this
evil.” David Lehrer, Los Angeles regional director of the
Anti-Defamation League, decried the appointment: “If it’s a panel on
counter-terrorism, you ought to be examining what tactics the U.S.
government should be taking rather than looking for reasons why
someone should put a bomb on an airplane.” The appointment has also
drawn the criticism of the leading Jewish American voice in
Washington, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish
Organizations, whose 55 members span the political spectrum. Malcolm
Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents,
stated: “We support inclusion of Muslims and Arab Americans, but not
someone who has the kinds of views he has on issues the commission is
to address…We are raising questions about the appointment and think
it is not a wise appointment.” Critics claim that Al-Marayati has
“likened supporters of Israel to Nazis, compared American
revolutionaries to terrorists and sought to blame Israeli leaders for
terrorist actions.” Al-Marayati has also come under fire for seeing
Hezbollah as a legitimate resistance to Jewish presence in Lebanon.
The Zionist Organization of America has also opposed the appointment
of Al-Marayati’s wife, Laila, to a national commission on
international religious freedom.

Muslim Police Officer Suspended for Goatee in New York

Source: The New York Times

On July 4, 1999, The New York Times reported that
Christopher M. Letz, a six-year veteran of the New York State Park
Police, was suspended on June 22nd, 1999 for insubordination because
he grew a goatee, which is against department regulations. Letz, who
grew the goatee to comply with Muslim teachings, was inspired by a
March 1999 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals that blocked the
dismissal of two Muslim police officers in Newark, New Jersey for
growing beards for religious reasons. Though Officer Letz is not in
favor of escalating the situation, he is considering hiring a lawyer
and getting the New York Civil Liberties Union involved.

Lubavitch Center Opens in Washington, D.C.

Source: The Washington Post

On July 3, 1999, The Washington Post reported that the
American Friends of Lubavitch has opened a $2 million center in
Washington’s embassy district. The 10,000-square-foot building houses
an Orthodox synagogue, a large meeting room, and a library with more
than 2,000 books on Chabad Lubavitch and Jewish mysticism that will
be open to the public. The new center also draws attention to its
director, Levi Shemtov, who is considered by many to be the
“unofficial rabbi of Capitol Hill.” Chabad Lubavitch has about
250,000 followers in 44 states and other countries, which is
approximately 3 percent of the world’s Jewish population.

Possible Anti-Muslim Attacks Prove to be a Hoax

Source: The Beacon News

While on July 3, 1999, The Beacon News of Aurora, Illinois reported
that a Muslim man, Tarell Rodgers, had been attacked in a mosque by
three white men and on July 7th, that his garage had been set on
fire, by July 9th the paper reported that Rodgers admitted to fabricating these attacks.

Appointment of Muslim to National Counter-Terrorism Commission Creates a Stir

Source: Los Angeles Times

On July 2, 1999, the Los Angeles Times published an
article by Laila and Salam Al-Marayati on the attempts of Zionist
Organization of America (ZOA) to disturb Jewish-Muslim relations and
block appointments to federal commissions. The Al-Marayatis call for
moderation and dialogue to help foster a “viable and mature
Jewish-Muslim relationship.” “Our major concern is not with promoting
any particular foreign group but with enriching the democratic
process of debate in America. Our approach is to educate American
policymakers and interfaith groups about Islamic perspectives. While
condemning violence, we also pursue efforts to deal with the root
causes of extremism, namely despair, illiteracy, and injustice.”

Thai Buddhist Temple Opens in Washington State

Source: The Seattle Times

On June 28, 1999, The Seattle Times reported that the
Thai Buddhist Temple opened near Auburn, WA. The 24,000-square-foot
facility is the largest Buddhist temple on the Pacific coast and will
serve Buddhists from Portland, OR to Vancouver, British Columbia. The
temple cost $2.7 million and includes classrooms and housing
for five monks.