Interfaith group asks Idaho governor to retract refugee statement

Nizar al-Qassab, an Iraqi Christian refugee from Mosul, gets a kiss from his children as they prepare to depart from Beirut international airport Feb. 8 en route to the United States. (CNS photo/Mohamed Azakir, EPA)

An interfaith alliance based in Boise, Idaho, plans to deliver a letter to Idaho Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter on Feb. 15 asking him to retract a recent statement that he would prefer Christian refugees be given priority by his state.

The plight of "those who exist on the margins of our society — the tired, the hungry and the poor ... knows no boundary of faith, race, gender, sexuality or class," states the letter from the Interfaith Equality Coalition of Idaho (IEC).

IEC members, most of whom are leaders of Christian congregations, declared that they "disagree that our great state desires to give preference to Christians as refugees over people of other, or of no, faith."

Dated Feb. 8, the IEC letter foreshadows a Feb. 10 statement by the U.S. bishops in apparent response to President Donald Trump's declaration that Middle East Christians be given preference when the U.S. considers admitting refugees from the region.

On Feb. 3 Otter said "he agrees with President Donald Trump that persecuted Christians should be treated as priority in the U.S. refugee program" in an interview with Idaho Public Television, reported the Associated Press.

On Feb. 7 speaking with reporters at the Idaho Press Club in Boise, the governor defended his earlier statement but qualified it, saying, "I think it's not discriminatory, I think it's preference," according to news reports.

According to IEC Steering Committee member Rev. Dr. Andrew Kukla, pastor of Boise's First Presbyterian Church, letter supporters will gather in the state capitol first-floor rotunda on Feb. 15 at 11:15 a.m. Following "a short gathering and prayer," the group will "head up to the governor's office," Kukla said.

NCR requests for comment from the governor's office had not been acknowledged as of early Feb. 13.

IEC steering committee members were told by governor's office staff that Otter "does not have time to meet with a group of clergy," according to an emailed update on the group's effort.

While no Catholic congregations nor the Boise diocese are affiliated with the IEC, at least two Catholics signed the IEC letter — Carol McGee, pastoral associate for faith formation, evangelization and ministries at Boise's Sacred Heart Parish, and Fr. W. Thomas Faucher, pastor emeritus of Boise's St. Mary's Parish.

"Forty-six years ago I asked my trusted friend and one-time boss, Butch Otter, if he thought I should be ordained a priest, and he gave me an enthusiastic yes," Faucher said in an email to NCR. "Over the years if and when one of us asked the other about major decisions in his life, we gave each other our best advice."

"I rarely give Butch, and now his wonderful wife Lori, advice without being asked," Faucher continued, "but this time I am doing so. I ask him to please totally reject any support for President Trump's ban on people coming into our country, and reject any notion that Christians have a greater right to come to America than those of other religious traditions. Our Catholic tradition and teaching (Declaration of Religious Freedom, 1963) is that all people have the right to religious freedom."

[Dan Morris-Young writes for NCR from the West Coast.]

Interfaith Letter to Gov. Otter 2-8-17 by National Catholic Reporter on Scribd

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