NEW YORK – While offering prayers for grieving families and others suffering in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, religious leaders spoke out against the Bush administration’s policies March 11.

Held a few blocks from Ground Zero, the Forum of Concerned Religious Leaders’ press conference and prayer service released a statement, signed by over 200 religious leaders from the New York metropolitan area, opposing the expansion of the war against terrorism and supporting the right to dissent and in defense of civil rights of immigrants, along with a call for federal jobs creation and more funding for human services.

Rev. Peter Laarman, senior pastor of Judson Memorial Church in Lower Manhattan, said that “the immense cost of the war and the Bush administration’s misplaced budget priorities means that in New York, we cannot address the needs of the newly laid off and those whose welfare benefits are being cut.”

Rev. Robert Foster of the Bethel Evangical Baptist Church and Brooklyn Council of Churches also spoke of the difficulties ahead. “We are praying for the country as we heal form the pain of Sept. 11,” Foster said. “My oldest daughter is in the Army overseas and I’m proud of her but still I’m against what the president is doing with all the bombing and the killing.”

In a Buddhist ritual of peace, Ven T.K. Nakagaki from the New York Buddhist Temple urged, “Make us instruments of your peace where there is hatred; let us sow love where there is injury.”

Many of the prayers offered during the service called for unity in the search for peaceful solutions to the crisis in the U.S. and abroad. Rabbi Susan Oren prayed, “How shall we find peace when death tolls mount? How shall we feel secure when our rights are threatened in the name of liberty? How shall we pursue justice when vengence is exaulted?”

Debbie Almantasher, from the Mosque of the Islamic Brotherhood, also mentioned the need for unity. “I was astonished to see how many religious affiliations were involved today and I hope there will be more,” she told the World. “I hope it will grow. I think if we stand united our voices will be heard eventually.”

Almantasher said that Muslim communities have felt a sense of unity as many from other faiths have reached out to them, especially on the issues of civil rights and detainees.

Rabbi Ellen Lippmann of Kolot Chaeinu/Voices of Our Lives told the World, “I think people were so shook up on Sept. 11 that people who might have spoken out before suddenly find themselves feeling differently when it feels like they were the ones attacked.”

Lippmann added that “we’ve begun to hear some speaking out by Democrats in Congress. That sense in September and October that we are all ‘united we stand’ is fading as people see what this expansion [of the war] looks like. … I think that there may yet start to be some rumblings and some more speaking out.”

She said that there is a need to dramatize the numbers of civilian casualities in order to “get to the human face of the effects of war.”

Rev. Bob Brashear from West Park Church on the Upper West Side of Manhattan told the World, “The one thing this experience has given us is the opportunity to connect people’s experiences with those of other people around the world. It’s a direct connection between what happens here in New York City and the lives that people live in Bierut or Baghdad or Gaza. We understand our lives are connected to theirs.”

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