This piece can be read in full on the Huffington Post Religion; it was co-authored with Valarie Kaur.

david katoIn the weeks following 9/11, a Sikh man named Balbir Singh Sodhi was shot down at a gas station by a man shouting “I’m a patriot!” In 2009, a 9-year-old girl named Brisenia Flores and her father were murdered in Arizona, allegedly at the hands of anti-immigration crusaders. And just last week, a gay activist named David Kato was bludgeoned to death in Uganda after his picture was published in a magazine article outing and encouraging the execution of LGBT individuals.

What do these three disparate acts have in common? They were rooted in fear and hate, represent humanity at its worst … and they brought together a 29-year-old Sikh woman and a 23-year-old gay atheist.

At first glance, we may seem an odd duo. One of us is a Yale law student and dedicated filmmaker who has spent years raising up the stories of people swept up in hate crimes, racial profiling and domestic violence since 9/11; the other is a queer interfaith activist from the Midwest with more tattoos than fingers, who is working to bridge the cultural divide between the religious and the nonreligious.

We first met in September of 2010, when Park51, or the “Ground Zero Mosque,” came under national scrutiny and a pastor gained prominence by threatening to burn Qurans on the ninth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Looking for a compassionate place to form a response in the midst of cultural strife and increasingly hateful rhetoric, we gathered in a living room and drank hot tea, brainstorming with a group of peers across the country over Skype and e-mail. The result was the Common Ground Campaign, a youth-led coalition speaking out against anti-Muslim bias. In a few short weeks, more than 1,000 people from all walks of life signed on to the Common Ground Campaign charter, and the movement continues to grow. Continue reading at The Huffington Post.

dog-sleddingSorry for the lack of updates! I’ve been in limbo — in Minnesota visiting family and friends for secular Christmas with limited internet access. I’m still here but will be back with a vengeance in 2010. Until then, here is your (delayed) religion roundup and, to compensate for my slacking, a picture of me sledding with the family dog (dog-sledding… get it?!). And to those who celebrate something this time of year: Happy ____!

The Terrorist Next Door: The New York Times has an informative piece on homegrown terrorism and how this year’s incident at Fort Hood challenges the widespread assumption that America is relatively safe from homegrown terrorism (as opposed to European nations) due to more economic and social opportunities for American Muslims. The article credits the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as partially responsible for this shift. The role of religion in this conversation is huge, and it is important that we approach it with sensitivity and empathy. This article of course eerily preceded yesterday’s near-hijacking of a plane bound for Detroit, though the suspect, claiming ties to al Qaeda, was Nigerian.

Welcoming the Stranger: An inspiring story for the holidays about one of the many ways religious communities are doing good work across the country — the New York Times has a profile on a New Jersey Church that is drawing upon its religious convictions in an encouraging way. The young pastor of this congregation is working with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to spare immigrants detention; the article suggests that this might signal a new trend in immigration rules under the Obama administration. This, to me, is a story of a Christian community truly “following in Christ’s footsteps.”

Restricting Religion: A new study from Pew explores the many ways religious freedoms are restricted globally. A disturbing highlight: 70% of all countries restrict religion in some way. Oof.

Faith and Climate Change: I know we secular folks often feel religion can be a stumbling block in environmental efforts, but in truth religious communities are taking a real lead in the movement. Washington Post’s always-excellent On Faith recently featured a piece on how faith communities gathered in Copenhagen for the climate change talks. Certainly worth checking out.

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