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Commitments to Action: People of Faith Respond to September 11, 2001

The following are commitments to action from the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations relating to the national response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

The images of destruction will not allow us to escape. The collapse of buildings mirrors a collapse of confidence, rocking the fragile foundations of our lives. Our world will never be the same. Our work to heal ourselves and to heal the world seems puny in comparison with the destruction we see. How shall we respond?

—Rev. William G. Sinkford, Unitarian Universalist Association President

Writing from Washington, DC, September 12

  1. We grieve for those who lost their lives, and call on Unitarians and Unitarian Universalists around the world to offer emotional, spiritual, and financial support to survivors, their families, and others who are still suffering. "Let us hold in our hearts and in our prayers the families of those who were killed and wounded in New York, Washington, DC, and Pennsylvania. Let us stand with those who grieve," wrote President Sinkford in a pastoral letter to all Unitarian Universalists on September 12.

    Our Commitment: We continue to be a religion where people can grieve and heal. We will continue to provide emotional, spiritual, and financial support to those who are suffering. We will work to ensure that those who lost their jobs as a result of the travel and tourism crash—many of whom were already low-income—are included in relief efforts. We will work to ensure that those living in poverty before September 11 are not ignored in light of current tragedies.
     
  2. We "condemn all acts of terror, disproportionate reprisal, and attacks on civilian populations." (—excerpt from a 1982 Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) statement entitled "United States Policy in Relation to the Israeli-Palestinian-Arab Conflict," in which the UUA General Assembly urged the United States Government to "adopt…guiding policies in its efforts to help achieve a comprehensive settlement and to normalize United States relations with all of the Middle East's peoples.") [1]

    The terrorist attacks that took place on September 11, 2001, shocked the United States and the world as never before. We condemn these acts for what they are: crimes against humanity, committed by people who elevated ideology and spite above the sanctity of human life. The remaining perpetrators and accomplices should be held accountable.

    Serious questions remain about how the United States government will choose to pursue accountability. Will the response amount to "disproportionate reprisal," and thus warrant the opposition of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations? What constitutes disproportionate?

    The relevant social justice statements offer several criteria to be used:
     
    1. Should the response to terrorism include attacks on civilian populations? Such attacks are explicitly condemned in a 1982 statement entitled "United States Policy in Relation to the Israeli-Palestinian-Arab Conflict." [2]

      Our Commitment: We oppose attacks on civilian populations.
       
    2. Will the response to terrorism result in arms race escalation, nuclear or biological weapons proliferation, national missile defense, or otherwise not contribute to disarmament? The Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly has passed more than 30 statements since 1961 opposing arms race escalation and weapons proliferation and calling for disarmament. [3] The most recent statement, which declared opposition to a National Missile Defense System, was approved in 2000. [4]

      Our Commitment: We oppose policies which would result in arms race escalation, nuclear or biological weapons proliferation, national missile defense, or otherwise not contribute to disarmament.
       
    3. Will the response direct resources away from meeting basic human needs and alleviating poverty? The Association went on record in 1970 as supporting "decreasing emphasis on military defense expenditures and increasing emphasis on improving the quality of life in the United States." [5] The UUA General Assembly passed statements with similar language or emphasis in 1979, 1981, 1989, and 1991. [6]

      Our Commitment: We oppose policies which would direct resources away from meeting basic human needs and alleviating poverty.
       
    4. Will the response result in the selling or giving of arms to governments which abuse human rights, initiate aggression, or undermine international arms control efforts? A 1994 statement entitled "Restrict Arms Sales and Transfers" urged the United States to "refrain from selling or giving weapons to any government" that engages in the above named activities. The same statement also "calls for prohibiting United States foreign economic aid from being used for the purchase of weapons." [7]

      Our Commitment: We oppose policies which would result in the selling or giving of arms to governments which abuse human rights, initiate aggression, or undermine international arms control efforts.
       
    5. Will the response undermine the rights of conscientious objection? General Assembly statements affirmed the right of conscientious objection in 1967 and 1968. The right of conscience was re-affirmed in 1971, 1975 and 1977. [8]

      Our Commitment: We affirm the right of conscientious objection and will oppose policies which would undermine that right. We also affirm and support the young women and men who serve with conscience in our armed forces. We promote no single path, but will work for a society in which these personal choices can be made freely and with integrity.
       
  3. We need to support Arab, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, immigrant, and other communities that are suffering from harassment and profiling. [9] Whether by individuals acting alone, by groups of individuals, or by law enforcement as part of a coordinated effort, this abuse and stereotyping runs counter to our commitment to anti-racism and anti-oppression. A statement approved in 2000, entitled "Protest Against Racial Profiling," specifically called for "an end to racial profiling by all law enforcement agencies in the United States." Our principles affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every person, and Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God's love by loving our neighbors as ourselves.

    Our Commitment: We will be a public voice for tolerance and unity in our communities, standing publicly with these groups, and speaking out against incidents and policies which promote violence and jeopardize civil liberties.
     
  4. We are called to oppose government efforts to combat terrorism by reducing civil liberties. [10] These Constitutional protections are meaningless if they can be tossed aside during the times they are most needed: when innocent people are put at risk because they fit a certain profile, or express (or are thought to have) a certain political view. While it is true that the United States' surveillance-related laws need to be rewritten [11], there is great potential for abuse if the update occurs under extreme pressure during a national crisis. [12] A statement approved in 1995, entitled "A Call to Conscious, Humane Treatment of Immigrants," specifically called for "a just application of human rights at both the state and national levels for all people living within our borders."

    Our Commitment: We will be a public voice for protecting the civil liberties of all people, and especially immigrants and others who are particularly at risk. In the policy-making process, ours should be a voice of reason and discernment, urging lawmakers to act according to principle, even in situations of urgency.

Notes

  1. United States Policy in Relation to the Israeli-Palestinian-Arab Conflict, 1982; Cease Support of Governments in Violation of Human Rights in Central America and Elsewhere, 1983; and Cooperative Religious Program for Peace, 1967; Disarmament, 1970; National Priorities, 1970
     
  2. United States Policy in Relation to the Israeli-Palestinian-Arab Conflict, 1982
     
  3. Statements on Disarmament
     
  4. National Missile Defense System, 2000
     
  5. National Priorities, 1970
     
  6. Reducing The Defense Budget, Reordering National Priorities, 1979; Sharing in the New Call to Peacemaking, 1979; Economic Conversion for Peace and Human Needs, 1989; Redirecting Economic Resources to Alleviate Poverty, 1991
     
  7. Restrict Arms Sales and Transfers, 1994
     
  8. Statements on Conscientious Objection
     
  9. Civil Rights, 1962; Consensus on Racial Justice, 1966; Racial Bigotry and Busing Issue, 1976; Toward an Anti-Racist Unitarian Universalist Association, 1997; and Protest Against Racial Profiling, 2000
     
  10. Civil Liberties, 1963; Freedom of Dissent, 1967; Campus Freedom and Responsibility, 1969; Civil Liberties, 1971
     
  11. "The current wiretapping law was written in 1968, long before the age of cell phones, voice mail, personal computers and e-mail." —Gugliotta, Guy, and Jonathan Krim. "Push for Increased Surveillance Powers Worries Some," Washington Post, Tuesday, September 25, 2001.
     
  12. Following the 1996 bombing of the World Trade Center, for example, new laws were written that seriously undermined the human rights of immigrants, such as allowing them to be detained indefinitely with no evidence. Portions of these laws were recently declared unconstitutional.

For more information contact pw_specialist @ uua.org.

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Last updated on Thursday, August 2, 2012.

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