Free Speech and Religion

Rights and Religion

December 5, 2019  • Institute Staff

In June, the Institute’s Inclusive America Project hosted a conversation about race and faith at the historic 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. In opening remarks, Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin called it “unsurprising” that “this very important conversation about bridging racial and faith divides is occurring right here, a church revered as ground zero for social change in this country.” Zeenat Rahman, the director of the project, moderated a conversation between Reverend Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas of Union Theological Seminary and Washington National Cathedral and Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. Sitting under large portraits of the four girls who were killed when white supremacists bombed the church, Douglas and Pesner talked about the important role of faith in mobilizing on critical issues like mass incarceration, educational equality, and economic prosperity—and, of course in the original civil-rights movement. Leaders also participated in a civil-rights tour of the city, with a special focus on the Fourth Avenue Business District. After the public conversation, a cross-section of local leaders held private discussions on the role faith communities can play in building an inclusive economy for all Birmingham residents.