If you love Colorado Springs (and we know you do) join Citizens Project and the Pikes Peak Equality Coalition to spread the love today in our city:

  • iheartcoslogoFollow the action on Twitter and use #IHeartCOS to share your own reasons for loving this city
  • Change your own profile picture to the image at the right
  • Take a selfie and share with your Facebook friends and Twitter followers why you ♥ Colorado Springs
  • Finally check out this Buzzfeed article to see why others love Colorado Springs and maybe get some inspiration yourself!

We believe in the transformative power of language. By changing the conversation about our community, we can change our community. Help us as we shift the conversation from one of scarcity to one of abundance.

Happy End of the Gregorian Calendar Year!

By Anya Arndt

***Disclaimer: It’s “War on Christmas”-time again, and I’m sick of it. So if you think the “War on Christmas” is a real thing, you should probably stop reading here, because I’m about to take on “Happy Holidays” as well, and explain to you why that too should be removed from casual conversation with strangers.

It’s the “Holiday Season,” and as we grow accustomed to the inundation of society with red and green, it’s sometimes easy to forget how uninclusive even a wish of “Happy Holidays” can be. The “Christmas Spirit” permeates society, and in the back corner at Target, we see a small Hanukkah section that reminds us not everyone appreciates a wish of “Merry Christmas.” But “Happy Holidays” doesn’t do the trick either. While you may be hard pressed to find someone who outwardly takes offense to “Happy Holidays,”  the term still illustrates a relative lack of understanding of religious diversity in this country and of the variety of holidays celebrated throughout the entire year.

While ranking holidays in order of most important to least important in a given religion seems pretty arbitrary, if one were to go about that, he or she would find that December is actually home to only two high-ranking holidays: Christmas and Winter Solstice (Christian and Pagan, respectively). While Judaism is represented in December with Hanukkah, the eight-day festival doesn’t compare in significance to Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, or Passover. Additionally, because the scheduling of Hanukkah is based on the Hebrew calendar and not the commercially used Gregorian calendar, Hanukkah doesn’t always even take place entirely in the month of December (this year, Hanukkah is from November 27th to December 5th[1]). December is also home to Bodhi Day (on the 8th), celebrated by some Buddhists, but again, once that day has passed, “Happy Holidays” really isn’t a very inclusive greeting. While Kwanzaa is also celebrated in December, it is not associated with any one particular religious or spiritual tradition, and is not widely celebrated as a result.[2] So if you wish someone “Happy Holidays” in late December, you are basically assuming that he or she could only be either Christian or Pagan.

To emphasize my point, I’d like to offer a brief, and by no means exhaustive, list of religions that do not have holidays during the month of December: Hinduism, Sikhism, Islam (though Ramadan occasionally falls during December depending on the lunar calendar), Baha’ism, Jainism, Shintoism, Native American religions, atheism[3], Zoroastrianism, etc. All of these faith traditions are present in the United States, and all of them are essentially excluded by the greeting, “Happy Holidays.”

To be fair, I will probably inappropriately wish many people “Happy Holidays” for the entirety of the month of December, seeing as it tends to be rude to not return the greeting in our society. But I do believe that it is important to acknowledge that the wishing of “Happy Holidays” is just as Christian-centric as “Merry Christmas,” albeit a bit more discreetly.

So if you really want to be inclusive, try wishing your Muslim friends “Eid Mubarak” on Eid al-Adha (In 2014, this will be October 4-5). Or maybe wish someone Jewish “L’shanah Tova” on Rosh Hashanah (September 24-26, 2014).  If you have Buddhist friends, you can wish them a Happy Vesak Day (May 13th in 2014). I could go on with this list and I acknowledge that in not doing so, I’m excluding a whole host of religious traditions (but I don’t want to bore you, so I welcome you do some googling yourself to wish your friends well on their most important holidays or visit the BBC’s interfaith calendar).

My point is, it is important to understand that while the “Holiday Season” can be incredibly stressful for families celebrating Christmas, it can be incredible alienating for families who don’t. So let this serve as a reminder to be respectful of everyone you come across in the month of December, and maybe just wish them a good day, with a smile, like we all should on every day of the year.

[1] November 26th is thus “Thanksgivikkah,” if you will.

[2] I do not mean to offend by devoting little time to Kwanzaa in this piece, as it is a legitimate celebration of African heritage in African-American culture, but since it is not associated with any particular religion, it is not a “holiday” in the traditional religious sense of the word.

[3] While some atheists celebrate Christmas as a cultural tradition in the U.S., many do not. I am also not making any claims on whether or not atheists see themselves as part of a faith tradition by placing them in this list, seeing as some do and some do not, I am simply pointing out that atheism traditionally does not include a celebration of the birth of Christ as a spiritually significant celebration.

What Will Your Community Investment Be?

By Kristen R. Downs

Having moved from Washington D.C. to Colorado Springs more than 12 years ago, my husband and I had envisioned a ‘life-style’ change, from the hustle and bustle of traffic congestion and work-stress, to one of the most beautiful locations in the United States.  Colorado Springs, a tourist destination, with an ideal climate for year-round recreational activities and less commute-time seemed like the perfect community.  Having lived in Chicago and Washington D.C. prior to moving to Colorado, we were accustomed to diversity; the local grocery store was an eclectic mix of language and culture, and work colleagues represented diverse religious and sexual orientations.   In retrospect, it seems as if we took tolerance for granted.

Now our home for over 12 years, we realize that Colorado Springs has a reputation for lack of community investment and a civic intolerance for funding programs that do not have a tangible direct personal benefit to the taxpayer.  Whether parks and recreation budget cuts, lack of investment in diverse social programs, or slashes to education and public safety; all have a direct effect on the economic vitality and building of sustainable community in Colorado Springs.

If Colorado Springs is to attract young entrepreneurs and families, it needs to seize the opportunity to ‘create community’ now.  Exposure, civic involvement and embracing diversity are fundamental to community investment.    Passivism will not suffice.   The creation of community and the celebration of diversity in Colorado Springs are dependent on us.  Each of us can build the kind of community we dream of.  In our families, our organizations, institutions, and neighborhoods, we can insist that we won’t remain isolated from those who are different from ourselves.  We can transform our neighborhoods, institutions, and local government into equitable, tolerant, and diverse communities.

1005572_597914896914941_693335597_nFour years ago ‘community’ was celebrated every Wednesday night in America the Beautiful Park, at the heart of downtown Colorado Springs.  Hundreds of families of diverse socioeconomic backgrounds gathered during dinnertime, listening and dancing to hours of free outdoor live music while children played in the Julie Penrose Fountain and on the playground.   Families became acquainted in a celebration of diversity under the shadow of America’s mountain, Pikes Peak.  Those weekly concerts provided exposure to the heart of community, the beauty of our city, and displayed community investment, civic engagement and volunteerism.  Concert attendance grew until the program ended in 2009.  As concerts are rekindled in Acacia Park on Saturday evenings this summer, Colorado Springs has the opportunity to expose citizens to affordable outdoor activities which enhance its quality of life.  You can affect change; bring your family, invite your neighbors and invest in thriving cultural activities essential to a vibrant, sustainable community.   Let’s learn from cities like Austin, TX, one of the fastest growing cities for young professionals, celebrated by its community as the ‘Live Music Capital of the World’ and proud of its eclectic and diverse lifestyle.

Young professionals want to locate to communities that embrace social justice and respect for diversity.   Colorado Springs must recognize differences in religion, sexual orientation and socioeconomic backgrounds to help create a climate that welcomes differences and inclusivity.  Each group has a unique strength and perspective that the larger community can benefit from, and by bringing diversity into the center of civic activity, new creative ideas can be used to solve tough problems.   We need to make national headlines celebrating diversity and culture in Colorado Springs, while developing community leaders who are representative of our entire population.

How can we involve our children and create a sustainable, growing, culturally diverse and prolific community?   Recently, my 10 year old asked why our downtown church is open and affirming of all people, yet other churches and organizations are not accepting of gays and lesbians.  As a family, we discuss how all races, religions, ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientations, genders and families deserve equal protections and rights.  Our four children attend a public Montessori school and the Hillside Community Center because there is a fervent respect for diversity, individual equality, deep-rooted community spirit, and a representation of all socioeconomic backgrounds.  Our family celebrates a diverse community by attending local concerts and pride parades, participating in community service, and volunteering to raise funds for local civic minded causes that give back to our community.  We want to instill a sense of community, civic responsibility and cultural respect in our children for a lifetime.  We believe Colorado Springs is worth the investment and we can all make an impact to ‘create community’, one family at a time.  What will be your contribution to the sustainability and vitality of our community?

Community Religious Leaders Launch New Column in Colorado Springs Independent

“In Good Faith” addresses questions about beliefs, family and culture

Starting in May, leaders within the faith community of Colorado Springs will be contributing to a new column in the Colorado Springs Independent.

The bi-monthly advice column, “In Good Faith,” will debut on May 1st and will feature a candid but civil exchange between the Rev. Ahriana Platten, minister at Unity in the Rockies and Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family. The Rev. Benjamin Broadbent, senior minister at First Congregational Church, will engage Daly later in the month. Continue reading

Book Review: The “Secular State” – picking words and picking battles

by Ken Burrows

Reflections on How to Be Secular: A Call to Arms for Religious Freedom by Jacques Berlinerblau

cross flag“Every new and successful example of a perfect separation between ecclesiastical and civil matters is of importance. Religion and government will both exist in greater purity the less they are mixed together.” — James Madison, letter to Edward Livingston, 1822

“I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.” — John F. Kennedy, speech in Houston, 1960

“The ‘wall of separation between church and state’ is a metaphor based on bad history, a metaphor which has proved useless as a guide to judging. It should be frankly and explicitly abandoned.” — Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist, dissenting in Wallace v. Jaffree, 1985

“Whatever the Establishment Clause means, it certainly does not mean that government cannot accommodate religion, and indeed favor religion.” — Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, interviewed in Hamodia magazine, 2009

As the quotes above suggest, something has happened over the last couple of centuries, and even in the last half-century, to the concept of church-state separation as seen by America’s leading voices. How did this come about and what might it mean for the future? If it’s a trend, is it inexorable?

This past year Jacques Berlinerblau attempted to answer such questions in his book How to Be Secular: A Call to Arms for Religious Freedom. One of its main theses is that secularism—defined by him as a philosophy wherein the state does not establish a religion or embrace an official preference for any—is in peril, and this peril is owed to extremism on both the right and the left, to both the fundamentally religious and the aggressively irreligious. In fact, in what may sound contradictory, he contends it is religious moderates that offer one of the best hopes of saving the secular state from demise.

Continue reading

2013 CRFI a Success

On Saturday, April 6, 2013, Citizens Project proudly presented the fourth annual Citizens’ Religious Freedom Institute, a one day seminar on how the First Amendment to the US Constitution protects religious freedom in public schools. More than 40 teachers, students, parents, administrators, staff, and school board members joined us for a day of learning.

Photos courtesy of Glenn:  Continue reading

The church vs. contraception: A matter of conscience . . . or control?

by Ken Burrows

For many months now, in the wake of the Affordable Care Act’s requirement for employers’ insurance policies to cover contraceptive drugs and services, the Catholic Church has taken vehement exception to this requirement. Churches themselves are exempt from the mandate, but the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) insists the requirement forces certain Catholic-affiliated entities (e.g., hospitals, universities, social service agencies) to violate their conscience, apparently on the assumption such entities share (or should share) the same religious objection as the church to contraception.

contraception-mandateA February 2012 pastoral letter from Cardinal Timothy Dolan on the topic spoke of concern for “the reverence for conscience.” The following month another letter from Cardinal Dolan referred to the right “of any faith to define its own teaching” and the right of every person of faith to not be forced to “violate their conscience.” The April Statement on Religious Liberty issued by the USCCB asserted that religious freedom goes beyond freedom to worship and must also guarantee “respect for freedom of conscience.” The day after the presidential election, Cardinal Dolan wrote a letter to President Obama congratulating him on his victory while also reminding him, “We will continue to stand in defense of … our first, most cherished liberty, religious freedom [emphasis in original],” which presumably also includes, as the USCCB said, freedom of conscience.

Competing consciences?
So it’s clear that the Catholic hierarchy, in pressing this issue, is claiming a deep and enduring moral certitude in its opposition to contraception. That’s what it means to say something is a matter of conscience. It seems equally clear the church is insisting there is both a personal and an institutional conscience to be safeguarded. For even though the church’s language frequently refers to the contraception mandate violating a person’s conscience, the Affordable Care Act certainly does not mandate any contraception usage by an individual. It merely requires only that contraceptives be made generally available by an institution. Yet this is what the church adamantly opposes, thereby ascribing conscience to the institution as well. One might even interpret that to mean the church believes institutional conscience overrides personal conscience, because the church’s position makes no exception to allow for contraception insurance to be provided to individuals in these institutions whose personal consciences would not be violated by it.

On the basis of claiming this institutional, conscientious opposition to contraception, the church now seeks to withhold contraceptive insurance coverage to persons who live beyond its own congregation walls. That’s an extraordinary contraction of individual freedom for the church to try to impose, so it is fair to ask: Is the church’s position here substantive and genuine enough to warrant that? Just how deeply conscientious is the church’s opposition to contraception? How morally urgent is it? Or to ask it in a more pointed way: Is this opposition more about conscience or about control?

A walk through history serves to confirm these are valid questions to ask. Continue reading

Event: Exploring Religious Agendas in Our Public Schools

Wednesday, February 27
6:30pm – registration & networking
7:00pm – program
Colorado College, Armstrong Hall – 14 E. Cache la Poudre
more info 

Tickets: $10 for adults and $5 for students (kids are free but must have tickets), may be purchased online at: http://rdf-ticketing.myshopify.com or in person at the Colorado College Worner Center or in person at EvolveFISH – 5744 N Academy Blvd, Colorado Springs, CO 80918  Continue reading