December 2015

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Video of November 10 Religious-Liberty Event Available
Cole Durham JrOn November 10 the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints coordinated a forum on religious liberty that was held at First Baptist Church of Orlando and featured two experts in religion and law—Professor W. Cole Durham, Jr., Director, International Center for Rabbi Mark GoldfederLaw and Religion Studies (ICLRS), Brigham Young University; and Rabbi Mark Goldfeder, Director, Law and Religious Programs, Emory University. The program also included brief presentations from an array of local religious leaders, representing a number of faith traditions, who later served on a panel to address audience questions. The program was videoed, and the video may be viewed here. The ICLRS website features a substantial index of current articles online that address religious-liberty issues (from a broad range of perspectives) and could be a great resource for those interested in the topic.
There Is No Religious Test for Public Office-Period
Staff member Don Byrd writes in an article posted on the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty: “In a forum, . . . Texas Republican Senator and presidential candidate Ted Cruz remarked that an atheist ‘isn’t fit to be commander-in-chief of this nation.’ This despite the clear constitutional prohibition on any religious test for office. . . . Back in September, in response to Ben Carson’s assertion that Islam is ‘not consistent with’ the U.S. Constitution, and that no Muslim-American should be ‘in charge of this nation,’ I wrote: ‘We should judge candidates’ qualification for office based upon their policy ideas and their record of service, not the faith they claim. If a candidate supports objectionable policies, their candidacy should be opposed on those grounds. . . . Muslim-Americans are fully American. No faith renders an American any less so. That is the promise of our Constitution. It should be the aspiration of our candidates for office as well’” [emphasis in original].
U.S. Muslims Strongly Denounce ISIS Killings in ParisImam Musri
Local Muslim leader Imam Muhammad Musri  (president of the Islamic Society of Central Florida and one of the Three Wise Guys on the WMFE 90.7 FM radio program Friends Talking Faith) joined hundreds of other Muslim leaders locally, throughout the United States and around the world in denouncing the murders perpetrated by ISIS in Paris, France, on November 13. Imam Musri’s video-recorded message may be viewed here.Sikh Immigrant Accepts Post as Canada’s Defense Minister
Harjit SajjanAs on November 25 Sikhs around the world celebrated the birthday of Guru Nanak (1469 – 1539), the founding father of Sikhism, many of those residing in North America—especially in Canada—felt a sense of pride concerning the appointment of a Sikh as Defense Minister in the new Canadian government being formed under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The new Defense Minister, Harjit Sajjan, a newly elected member of parliament, immigrated with his parents to Canada from India when he was five years old. He has served as a police officer in Vancouver and holds the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel in the Canadian Armed Forces, serving four operational deployments overseas: one to Bosnia and three to Afghanistan. He has been awarded numerous military and governmental honors for his service. He is the first Sikh who hold the office of Defense Minister.

Breaking News: First Thanksgiving Took Place in Florida
And you thought the Pilgrims celebrated America’s first thanksgiving in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1621, right? Well, you were wrong. It actually took place 56 years earlier, in St. Augustine, Florida. According to the Florida Humanities Council, “On September 8, 1565, Spanish Admiral Pedro Menéndez de Avilés landed in St. Augustine with 500 soldiers, 200 sailors, and 100 civilian farmers and craftsmen, some with wives and children. After claiming La Florida on behalf of Spanish monarch Philip II, Menéndez and his entourage celebrated a Mass of thanksgiving for the expedition’s safe arrival and then shared a meal with the native Indians.” By the way, that first thanksgiving meal “probably consisted of ‘cocido,’ a stew of garbanzo beans, salted pork, and garlic, accompanied by hard sea biscuits and red wine.” Now you know.

Prayer-Leading Coach Suspended, Vows to Fight Decision
High-school football coach Joe Kennedy (Bremerton, Washington), when asked by his school district to discontinue his practice of praying on the field with students after games, agreed to do so. “School officials were concerned, and rightly so, that his actions could be coercive and raise Establishment Clause issues,” states an article on the website of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. “After all, which students would feel comfortable walking away and declining to pray with the coach? Maybe some, but others will surely feel incentive to please the coach, not want to be different, not want to be ostracized, and what kind of religious freedom is that?”  When the coach later changed his mind, defied his bosses and continued to lead prayers, he was suspended. He’s now vowing to pursue the case legally. “While attending games may be voluntary for most students, students required to be present by virtue of their participation in football or cheerleading will necessarily suffer a degree of coercion to participate in religious activity when their coaches lead or endorse it,” the Bremerton School District has said.

Friends Talking Faith with The Three Wise Guys
3 Wise GuysHear the varied perspectives of the Rev. Bryan Fulwider, Rabbi Steve Engel and Imam Muhammad Musri as each week they discuss how faith impacts both the simple and the complicated aspects of life. Friends Talking Faith with The Three Wise Guys airs on Tuesdays at 6:30 pm on 90.7 WMFE FM in Orlando. Tune in on your radio or listen online. You can also listen to any show already aired.The Friends Talking Faith schedule for December features the following:

  • December 1: Faith and Society: Immigration and Persecution (Guest: Brigadier Martin Xuereb, Director, Malta Migrant Offshore Aid Station)
  • December 8: Faith and Culture: Religious Identity and Assimilation—Chanukah and more
  • December 15: Faith and Science: What Does It Mean to Be Human? (Guest: Dr. Rick Potts, Director, Washington, D.C., Smithsonian Human Origins Project)
  • December 22: Faith and Society: The Missoula Peace Sign—The Complexity of Peace. Christmas. (Guest: Jan Selby, Founder of Quiet Island Films, St. Paul, Minnesota)
  • December 29: Faith and Religion: Religious Questions from Older Adults

Muslims to Host Community Forum on Friday, December 4
Muslim Council of AmericaThe Orlando-based Muslim Council of America is hosting a community forum on Friday, December 4, at 7:00 pm at the Jewish Community Center of Southwest Orlando, 11184 South Apopka-Vineland Road, Orlando, FL 32836. The event, titled “Muslims and Terrorism: a community-based dialogue with a problem-solving approach,” is free of charge and the public is urged to attend. The program will feature a cross section of the Orlando community—Muslim representatives, interfaith leaders, specialists in American history, local government officials, law-enforcement officers, Congressman Alan Grayson and others. The event is being conducted in response to comments made by presidential candidates about Muslims, the nationwide anti-Muslim rallies that were called for on October 9 and 10 and, more recently, the terrorist massacre in Paris that was perpetrated by extremists who call themselves Muslims. Those attending the event must RSVP to Mohammad Akhtar via email ( or by phone (407-607-4683 (cell), 407-217-2951

What Does Your Faith Tradition Teach About Other Faiths?
“What do your faith’s holy writings say about how those of your faith should relate to those of other faiths? At a practical level, how do those of your faith typically relate to those of other faiths?” These are the springboard questions to be addressed on Wednesday, December 9, at the monthly Interfaith Discussion sponsored by the Interfaith Council of Central Florida. The Interfaith Discussion is held from 7:00 to 8:30 pm on the second Wednesday of each month at Adventist University of Health Sciences (671 Winyah Drive, Orlando, FL 32803) on Florida Hospital’s main campus. The discussions are respectful, open and candid, and the participants represent a variety of faith traditions as well as those who question the validity of faith altogether. For directions to the meeting place, click here. Admission is free. Everyone is invited.

Icons and Images Stir Debate at Bryn Mawr Collegereligious 2
Student leaders and college administrators at Bryn Mawr College (Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania) face “differing perspectives” as to whether their interfaith worship room should be “an interfaith space, where everyone can keep their different symbols of worship and co-exist together, or whether it should be…a neutral space” that’s free from the trappings and icons of any religion. It seems that some students have expressed discomfort about offering prayers that are in keeping with their own faith traditions but are being prayed in the presence of a small-but-visible Hindu shrine that has been placed in the room. Click here to read more.

Bach Festival Society to Make Christmas Season Live
johnconducting-1024x578The Bach Festival Society of Winter Park invites all lovers of Christmas music to experience the pleasure of a true Winter Park holiday tradition—A Classic Christmas—at the following times: Saturday, December 12, at 2:00 and 6:00 pm; and Sunday, December 13, at 2:00 and 6:00 pm. The program features favorite Christmas works performed by the Bach Festival Choir, Youth Choir and Orchestra in the beautiful Knowles Memorial Chapel on the campus of Rollins College. Phone the Bach Festival Society Box Office (407-646-2182) with questions or to book a group of 10 or more tickets. For information on ticket policies, including returns and exchanges, click here. (By purchasing a ticket, buyers acknowledge having read and understood the policies.) For a different seasonal experience, enjoy the free Christmas in the Park concert, from 6:15 to 8:00 pm, on Thursday, December 3.

Wonderful Wizard of Song: An Evening with Harold ArlenHarold-Arlen.2
Those who love the music of composer Harold Arlen (and who doesn’t?) will be delighted to know they’ll have three opportunities this month to listen to the best music of one of the best—if not the best—composers the United States has produced. Arlen’s masterpiece Over the Rainbow—just one of his more than 500 compositions—was voted in 2003 the number one movie song of all-time by the American Film Institute. It’s appropriate that this “three-peated” concert should be at the Jewish Community Center (851 North Maitland Avenue, Maitland, FL 32751), because it was listening to his father as synagogue cantor that first inspired young Harold (or Hyman, as he was known then). Get a sense of just how inspired the young man was when on December 17, 19 or 20 at 7:30 pm you listen to Over the Rainbow, Stormy Weather, It’s Only a Paper Moon, I’ve Got the World on a String, Get Happy, Blues in the Night, Come Rain or Come Shine and more. Click here for details of the featured performers and how to book your tickets. Oh, one more thing: Tell your friends—because they might want to avail themselves of this opportunity, as well.

Government-Prepared Video Outlines Refugee Vetting
Jeh_Johnson_official_DHS_portraitJeh Johnson, Secretary of Homeland Security, sent out the following on November 24: “Since the attacks in Paris, many have asked about our process for admitting Syrian refugees into this country. I understand the anxiety that many Americans are feeling right now. And as Secretary of Homeland Security, I share with President Obama the top priority of keeping the American people safe. So let me be clear about what this process of vetting and resettling refugees looks like. It’s important to remember, we’re focused on admitting the most vulnerable Syrians—this means mostly women, children and families. Second, anyone who applies for and is approved for refugee status in the United States, including Syrians, must first go through a rigorous security screening process. Watch this video I narrated to see exactly what a potential refugee goes through to resettle in the U.S. Taking in refugees at times of crisis is simply the right thing to do. It’s who we are as a Nation. And we can continue to ensure our own security, while doing our share to welcome refugees fleeing violence, looking to America as their beacon of hope and freedom. This is the United States of America. We can, we must, and we will do both these things.” Click here for more information. [Original paragraphing removed.]

Religious-Liberty Site Addresses Hot-Button Issues
Those who appreciate the perspective of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty might also enjoy checking out the website of Religious Liberty.TV—Celebrating Freedom of Conscience, which also looks at church-state and religious-liberty issues. The website is coordinated by lawyer Michael D. Peabody, who writes from a Seventh-day Adventist perspective. The website states: “ReligiousLiberty.TV, launched in June 2008, is a leading independent online resource for news, information, commentary, and insights on contemporary issues involving the free exercise and establishment clauses of the United States Constitution. Today’s rapidly evolving Constitutional landscape has led to countless ambiguities and uncertainties in legislation, public policy, and jurisprudence and has provided immediate opportunities for concerned citizens, religious leaders, elected officials, and attorneys to increase knowledge about these issues while ensuring that independent viewpoints are protected. . . . While we understand that we might not all agree on every issue, working cooperatively to create a climate of trust that supports meaningful dialogue is a primary objective of ReligiousLiberty.TV.” Click here to request that articles be sent to you as soon as they’re released.

Local Muslim Lawyer Files for Asylum for Iranian Christianimmigration-attorney-shahzad-ahmed
Orlando-based human-rights attorney Shahzad Ahmed has filed for asylum relief for an Iranian Christian. The application is based upon the claim that if Ahmed’s client returns to Iran, he’ll be persecuted by Iran’s regime and its people. Christians have long suffered persecution in Iran, a country run by theocratic clergy that’s harshly biased against minority religions. Apostasy in Iran (conversion out of Islam into another religion) is a crime punishable by death. Even if the Iranian regime does not carry out the penalty, a convert potentially faces mob attacks or severe harassment, forcing him to practice his faith underground. When asked how he feels about advocating for Christians while he himself is a Muslim, attorney Ahmed replied, “I see no contradiction in that. The Qur’an clearly states that ‘there is no compulsion in religion.’ So the so-called ‘apostasy laws,’ which some clergy believe in, I completely disagree with. . . . My client deserves to practice his faith freely, and I vigorously defend his right to practice it.” Learn more at Facebook.

Wanted: Singers for “Christmas in the City” Program
Hope HelpsEach year HOPE Helps, Inc. (812 Eyrie Drive, Oviedo, FL 32765) works with an array of community organizations both religious and secular to host a major Christmas festivity. It’s called “Christmas in the City,” and it’s for people in the community who aren’t in a financial position to host much festivity for themselves. You can read about it at the HOPE Helps website. Please note the list of things needed for the event and the opportunities to volunteer—though you should do so immediately or you might miss out. But if you do miss out, you can mark your calendar for next year! One aspect of the event that many find fun and rewarding is the singing of carols by an ad hoc choir dressed up in “Christmasy” colors and styles. If singing Christmas carols is on your list of pleasures, let the organizers know of your interest and they’ll supply more detail. By the way, “Christmas in the City” and the carol singing is taking place on Saturday, December 12, from 10:15 am to 2:45 pm at University Carillon United Methodist Church (1395 Campus View Court, Oviedo, FL 32765). Join the singing for the entire time or for one hour as your schedule and voice allow.

Cornerstone Hospice Seeking Array of Volunteers
Kayla Lopes, volunteer specialist for Cornerstone Hospice‘s new in-patient care unit at Orlando Health Hospital and their in-patient unit at Westminster Winter Park, says Cornerstone is looking for volunteers to work in both locations. Check out the array of volunteer opportunities listed on the Cornerstone website. Email or phone (407-271-1546) Kayla Lopes for more information.

Looking for an Opportunity to Volunteer?
If you’re looking for an opportunity to volunteer but just don’t know where the needs lie, may be the answer. If you need volunteers for your organization but aren’t sure where to get them, may be the answer. Rather than try to explain in detail how it works, having you click on may be the answer! Check it out. And when you do, join the rest of us in giving kudos to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for providing such a simple and useful community-betterment tool.

Want to Serve Others and Make Money Doing It?
First a pop quiz: How many substitute teachers do you think are needed each day by Orange County Public Schools? Clue: A lot. In fact, according to Kelly Educational Staffing, which has to OCPD contract to supply the subs, the number is between 800 and 1,000. (Remember, OCPS is the tenth-largest school district in the United States!) Since subs get paid, subbing provides a chance to earn money, contribute back to the community, “test drive” the teaching profession and much more. Interested? Then click here to get more detail.
GladdeningLight’s 2016 Symposium to Start Jan 29David Whyte
Theme for the 2016 GladdeningLight Symposium is “The Art of Asking the Beautiful Question.” David Whyte—a man who “enjoys a worldwide following in three normally mutually exclusive areas: the literate world of readings that most poets inhabit, the psychological and philosophical worlds of theological inquiry, and the world of vocation, work and leadership”—will be the featured presenter at GladdeningLight’s 2016 symposium, to be held January 29 to 31 in Winter Park. Returning this year are performance artists Owen and Moley Ó Súilleabháin, brothers from Western Ireland who harmonize a cappella ancient canticles and Gaelic sean nos traditional folk hymns. The brothers will sing and play throughout the weekend. Click here for symposium schedule, cost and how to register. “GladdeningLight is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit spiritual initiative whose mission is to explore transcendent elements of art through hosted conferences, exhibits & public performance, cloistered retreat, and pilgrimage. GladdeningLight is open to all and representative of thoughtful spiritual seekers both inside and outside traditional religious practice.”

Practicing Yoga Benefits Health More Than Supplements
According to analysis of data from the 2012 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS)—an annual study in which thousands of Americans are interviewed about their health—among people who practiced yoga or took natural products (dietary supplements other than vitamins and minerals), yoga users reported the most positive health benefits, compared to users of natural products and spinal manipulation. “Though yoga seems to play the biggest role, people who use a variety of complementary health approaches reported better wellbeing,” said Josephine P. Briggs, M.D., director of the the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. “This may suggest that people perceive more wellness benefit when they are actively involved in their health—for example, by practicing yoga. More research is needed to better understand the ways yoga and other approaches impact overall health.” The NHIS is an annual study in which thousands of Americans are interviewed about their health- and illness-related experiences. The 2012 NHIS asked participants about their use of complementary health approaches and whether they used them to treat a specific health condition or for any of five wellness-related reasons. The survey results are based on data from 34,525 adults aged 18 and older.

Half of House-Of-Worship Fires Declared Arson
“About half of all the fires at houses of worship in the past 20 years were intentionally set, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of data from the ATF. Of the 4,705 reported fire incidents at houses of worship between 1996 and 2015, 2,378, or 51%, had been ruled intentional as of July [2015].” Read the entire article here. “Fires caused by arson are far more common at houses of worship than in most other kinds of structures. For instance, in 2013, only about 10% of all nonresidential fires and 5% of residential fires were intentionally set, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.”

Save the Date: MLK Interfaith Service January 10mlk_photo
On Sunday evening, January 10, 2016, at 5:30 pm, the public is invited to join an array of religious and civic leaders in celebrating the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The theme for the 2016 event is “Creative Maladjustment and Divine Discontent,” based on creative phraseology used by Dr. King in some of his presentations. This annual event, which is jointly sponsored by the Interfaith Council of Central Florida and the City of Orlando Mayor’s Martin Luther King, Jr., Commission, provides a natural catalyst for dialogue with children and youth about the history of the Civil Rights Movement, the contributions of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the advances made, the challenges that still remain and the truly broad scope of social-moral issues Dr. King addressed. The event—this is the 30th year it has been held—includes a “candlelight” vigil, short march and an interfaith and multicultural service. (More specific details will be provided in the January issue of this newsletter—such as the starting point, which traditionally has been City Hall but may be changed this year. Stay tuned.)

Now Is the Time to Plan for Week of the Family 2016
The highly successful, just-completed 2015 Week of the Family—which ran from Saturday, November 7, to Sunday, November 14—brought together an array of Orange County’s faith-based, civic, business, educational and other organizations to work together in a concerted effort “to strengthen family relationships through education, wholesome activities, fitness and community service.” At the WOTF website you can see just what those events and activities were. If you, your family, your house of worship or your civic organization missed out in 2015, then now is to time to make sure you don’t miss out in 2016 (the dates are Saturday, November 5, to Sunday, November 13). WOTF organizers want to see a symbiotic and complementary relationship between the region’s various organizations, both religion and secular, and WOTF. Organizations such as houses of worship and schools that provide events and programming to strengthen families can sync their schedules so the Week of the Family becomes the culmination, highlight and reward for what’s been going on all year or part of it. Not only does WOTF ensure that there are an array of fun-filled, community-benefiting events already organized and there to be taken advantage of, such synchronizing of schedules also means WOTF event participation will increase. As the saying goes, the more the merrier—and the greater the impact. So as your organization decides what to do, and when, in 2016, definitely keep in mind the Week of the Family. Our region’s families will be blessed as a result.

Contributions Welcomed as Year Comes to an End
Those involved in the Interfaith Council of Central Florida and Friends Talking Faith With the Three Wise Guys radio program feel good about what has been achieved this year. In a social environment where polarization and intolerance are becoming the order of the day, we’ve worked hard to counteract such negative forces. And we feel we’ve made a difference. We hope that you as readers of this newsletter have been informed, encouraged and blessed by the efforts we’ve put forth. We thank you for past contributions, and we invite you to consider contributing again before the end of the calendar year. All contributions are tax-deductible and may be sent to: PO Box 3310, Winter Park, FL 32790-3310. Indicate which of the entities above you wish to receive the benefit of your gift. Thank you for making these activities possible.

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“Love Radically. Serve Gratefully. Wonder Daily.”—Robin Shaw

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  James Coffin, Executive Director
PO Box 3310, Winter Park, FL 32790-3310
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