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Religious Diversity at the City Club and Projec t Hope

On Friday, May 9th, we had lunch at the City Club of Greater Cleveland where we were treated to good food and an excellent program titled "A Founding Father's Guide to Religious Tolerance" presented by Dr. Denise Spellberg, Associate Professor of History and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, and the author of "Thomas Jefferson's Qur'an: Islam and the Founders". She argues that Jefferson initially saw Muslims (as well as Catholics and Jews) as a political threat but his view changed over the years and he eventually envisioned a country where all religions would be tolerated. Jefferson certainly owned a Qur'an but there was no evidence that he ever actually read it. However, by the time he became President he believed that Muslims should be treated with respect. And this respect helped him when he had to deal with with leaders of Muslim countries like Tunis.

The program was co-sponsored by CAIR Ohio, the Cleveland Council on World Affairs, and the Niagara Foundation. Many of our old friends were there like Sanjiv K. Kapur of Jones Day, Judge Diane Karpinski, Isaim Zaiem, Nassar Assad, and, of course, Murat Gurer of the Niagara Foundation (who we had seen the previous evening at the Niagara Foundation Dinner also at the City Club), and Julia Shearson of CAIR Ohio.

The program came to a thoughtful conclusion when, in response to a question from one of the attendees, Dr. Spellberg said that one doesn't have to understand the Qu'ran to be for civil rights and that some people are frightened of Islam because they do not realize, due to lack of education about the subject, that the United States is the most religiously diverse country in the world. Moreover, we are not a Christian nation and we never have been and that one of the things that makes this a great country is that our early leaders like Jefferson chartered a course for us that called for religious freedom for all.

After the program, copies of Dr. Spellberg's book were available for purchase which was a good thing because she definitely prompted the interest and curiosity of of the people there

Several weeks ago at a Painesville Chamber of Commerce gathering we spoke to Stephanie Devers, Communications Coordinator for Project Hope for the Homeless, who invited us to her organization's annual fundraising dinner to be held on Friday, May 9th at the Banquet Center at St. Noel in Willoughby Hills.

Project Hope for the Homeless Ecumenical Shelter Network of Lake County, Inc. is located in Painesville and offers several programs to assist the homeless including shelter and support services, a daytime program for shelter families with children, and an aftercare program to help their clients locate affordable, permanent housing and maintain their new homes. It is the only emergency shelter in Lake County.

We met Father Gerald Bednar who is the Chairperson of the Board of Directors. Moreover, we were privileged to be assigned to the same table as Judy Burr who is the Executive Director of Project Hope. After dinner, Ms. Burr gave a short presentation in which she said that Project Hope helped 386 people in 2013 and talked about how a former gang member helped by Project Hope is now a Pastor and a former drug dealer is now a drug and alcohol counselor. Ms. Burr was especially pleased that a new 5200 square foot facility is now under construction and praised the City of Painesville for assisting them with the permit process and waiving the fees. She also noted that $300,000 worth of labor has been donated.

In addition, we watched a brief film about Project Hope and how it touches people's lives made by one of the volunteers which almost didn't get to be shown due to difficulties with the projector but, fortunately, one of the kitchen staffers was an old pro at this sort of thing and fixed the projector in a couple of minutes.

Let us conclude by pointing out that Project Hope's programs are non-denominational and, according to the program notes, "solidly based in the simple joy of sharing the love of Jesus Christ." There was a lot of joy at this event and a lot was shared. Approximately 450 people turned out for it so the Banquet Center was filled to capacity.

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