Some churches reluctant to hang anti-torture banners

WASHINGTON — American houses of worship may support a ban on U.S. torture, but they aren't always comfortable with showing it publicly, according to an anti-torture activist group.

The Rev. Richard Killmer is leading a national campaign to get churches, synagogues and mosques to hang banners reading "Torture is a moral issue." He said he found some congregations "were not ready to be publicly visible" on this issue, and one even feared property damage.

"Different congregations are on different places on this," said Killmer, executive director of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, in a conference call June 5.

While nearly 300 groups now hang such banners, others have been reluctant. A church in Illinois, which Killmer declined to identity, said their banner was stolen. He also said an Episcopal priest expressed concern about his church being defaced.

Religious leaders in five states -- Mississippi, Idaho, Nebraska, Georgia and West Virginia -- were particularly resistant or afraid to support the initiative, Killmer said. North Dakota was a particularly tough battle, although they ended up with six participating congregations who hung anti-torture banners.

The use of torture by the United States has been hotly debated since photos were made public detailing abuse of inmates at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. In addition, human rights groups have been concerned about the government's use of waterboarding and other harsh methods to extract information from people the government wants to question about possible terrorist threats.

The National Religious Campaign Against Torture, a non-profit with more than 190 affiliated congregations, said support is growing. They now receive about 10 banner orders per day. Congregations in all 50 states now hang banners expressing moral objection to torture.

The group also plans to lobby Congress to create a select committee to investigate CIA interrogation programs, advocate closing of "secret prisons" and stop the transport of individuals to other countries for likely torture.

Click here to see a slide show of churches displaying the banner.

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