Orange interfaith clergy group denounce border policy

Dr. Julius Landwirth (left) speaks at a forum on physician-assisted dying at the Holy Infant Roman Catholic Church in Orange on March 30, 2014. Members of the Orange clergy seated left to right are Rev. Ann Ritonia of the Church of the Good Shepherd, Rev. Tim Boerger of Ziion Lutheran Church, Rev.Suzanne Wagner of Orange Congregational Church and Father Peter Orfanakos of St. Barbara Greek Orthodox Church.

Members of an interfaith town clergy group — including three ministers, two Rabbis, two priests and an Iman — have released a joint statement denouncing the United States policy that has called for the separation of children from families trying to cross the border to this country.

Even though the practice was suspended in recent days, it could always happen again and there is no plan to reunite those already separated.

“Such a policy violates our moral code as well as the sacred institution of the family,” the statement reads in part. “We appeal to all Americans to condemn this injustice, and we particularly appeal to the humanity of the officials who work on our borders to refrain from dividing families in this way.”

The strongly worded statement, states that children should never be punished for events that are “beyond their control.”

“Our hearts go out to those suffering under these terrible conditions. We pray for them, we pray that their families will soon be restored and we pray that the proper authorities find a swift and more compassionate solution to this unfortunate and very painful situation.”

The clergy in Orange are referring to President Donald Trump administration’s policy of separating families who cross the U.S. border with Mexico illegally, placing the children in cell-like cages-like enclosures.

After public outcry from all political sides, Trump recently signed an order reversing — for now — the separation policy of his administration. But there has not been any corrective action so far in reuniting children already separated from their parents at the border.

But the Rev. Suzanne Wagner, pastor at Orange Congregational Church, and conveyor of the interfaith clergy group said even though they wrote the position before Trump’s latest order, it’s important to get it out to the public because it could always happen again.

“I think the value (of the statement) is that it shows our solidarity on immigration and feelings about children. We are all children of God, but little ones are so much more vulnerable — they can’t speak for themselves,” she said. “It’s important for community leaders to put it out there. Our congregants expect us to take some leadership.”

Wagner said that while Rabbi Alvin Wainhaus of Or Shalom synagogue drafted the original, they all discussed it, worked it over and made changes.

Wainhaus said it all started when they were “schmoozing” one day and discovered they all felt the policy was “reprehensible.”

“Unanimity is a powerful force,” and that includes when the clergy are together on a subject, Wainhaus said.

He said the immigration issue crossed the line from politics to morality. People of various political leanings, ethnicities and races are against the separation policy, he said.

Rabbi Michael Farbman, also a member of the clergy group said, “I think we are all feeling the weight of responsibility, to speak out against the injustice, and to acknowledge that all our traditions urge us to show kindness to stranger. Prudent immigration policy does not have to come at a price of losing our basic humanity by separating children from their parents.”

Wainhaus said the Orange clergy group has a great sense of solidarity and unity and has come together on other big issues through the years, including after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School that killed 29 first-graders and six staff, and the terrorist attack on Pulse Nightclub that killed 49 and wounded 53.

He said the group meets regularly at a restaurant and comes together every year the Sunday before Thanksgiving for an interfaith service.

The statement begins: “We, the members of the Clergy of the Town of Orange, embrace and teach the divine precept bidding us to treat all people with dignity and to uphold one standard of justice for citizens and strangers alike. Moreover, we regard the family as a societal structure that is blessed by God.”

It goes on to say: “We are therefore appalled at the recent United States policy that calls for the separation of children from families that have sought asylum from danger by crossing over into this country.”

The statement is signed by Wagner, Wainhaus, The Rev. Timothy Boerger, of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church; The Rev. Father Norman Brockett, of Holy Infant Roman Catholic Church; Imam Bachir Djehiche, of New Haven Islamic Center; Rabbi Michael Farbman, Temple Emanuel; The Rev. Peter Orfanakos, St. Barbara Greek Orthodox Church; The Rev. Diana Rogers, of Church of the Good Shepherd.