Two hundred Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders met Tuesday in Detroit for a strategy session in their campaign to defeat a state ballot proposal to ban affirmative action programs.
The conference at Bethany Baptist Church on the city’s west side was led by an unusually broad array of top religious leaders. Speakers ranged from the Rev. Charles Adams, pastor of Hartford Memorial Baptist Church and one of the city’s most famous preachers, to Imam Hassan Qazwini, head of the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, one of the largest mosque in North America.
“This is not a political issue; this is a spiritual issue,” Msgr. Patrick Halfpenny, pastor of St. Paul on the Lake Catholic Church in Grosse Pointe Farms, told the crowd. Halfpenny is interfaith representative for Detroit Cardinal Adam Maida.
The proposal, known as the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, is a constitutional amendment to ban the use of race- and gender-based preferences in government hiring and contracting and in university admissions.
Across Michigan, Catholic leaders have fielded what appears to be the most elaborate campaign by a religious group. More than 100,000 copies of a four-page brochure, arguing against the ballot proposal on the basis of Catholic teaching, have been sent to the 801 parishes serving 2.2 million Catholics.
“Our commitment is considerable on this,” Paul Long, a spokesman for the Lansing-based Michigan Catholic Conference, said Tuesday. Beyond the brochures, pastors are expected to include anti-civil rights initiative messages in homilies and parish bulletins over the next five weeks.
On Tuesday, the 200 clergy who met in Detroit were given 26-page resource packets by the National Conference for Community and Justice in Detroit. The packets contained ideas for sermons and bulletin articles in Jewish, Christian and Muslim congregations, including quotes from the Bible and Quran.
“This is a concern in all of our faiths,” Qazwini said. “In Islam, we are taught that we must help the oppressed to make their way.”
The clergy also encouraged local churches, mosques and synagogues to send members to a rally planned for Thursday at Hope United Methodist Church in Southfield. In Lansing, however, the campaign director of the civil rights initiative said the religious coalition doesn’t worry her.
“Religious groups organized in California, too, and we won there,” said Jennifer Gratz.