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Day of Action rallies extend far beyond Billings

by Susan Olp

http://billingsgazette.com/news/state-and-regional/montana/day-of-action-rallies-extend-far-beyond-billings/article_a9b25dd0-7192-5050-a6a7-5c974c26ef13.html

Billings wasn’t the only city in Montana that took part in a rally or prayer vigil Tuesday as part of the “Stand Against Violence Fear and Hate” Day of Action.

A variety of faiths and organizations in Helena, Missoula, Kalispell and Bozeman also joined together to speak up for refugees and condemn prejudice toward any specific faith or culture. It’s part of a broader attempt by the Montana faith community to support refugees and minority religions.

The effort is partially in response to anti-refugee, anti-Muslim activities and sentiment around the state, said Rachel Carroll Rivas, co-director of the Montana Human Rights Network.

“So many people were emailing and calling and reaching out and saying we feel like we need to do more,” Rivas said in a telephone interview from Helena. “After you get enough of those, you think, ‘All right, it's time to do more.’”

It’s time, she said, to let others know that concerned people are coming from a place of compassion, standing up for those who are being targeted.

“There are times when you can’t be quiet,” Rivas said. “This is a time not to be silent in our opposition to the hate.”

Rivas pointed to anti-refugee, anti-Muslim rallies that have taken place in Missoula and Helena. A Feb. 24 rally in Missoula brought about 100 people together to protest attempts to resurrect a refugee relocation center agency in the city.

Rivas also mentioned a letter written by the Ravalli County Commission opposing the settlement of Syrian refugees in Ravalli County. The commission approved a modified version of the letter after it held a town meeting in Hamilton that drew an estimated 500 people, many who were in favor of the letter.

“Then up on the Flathead, there is a group, Act for America, that has a chapter,” she said. “They have been doing events for over a year, and that group is particularly anti-Muslim.”

Rivas was pleased to see Tuesday's rallies drawing strong support from the state’s faith community.

“That’s no surprise to us, and I think that’s an important part of the conversation, she said. “Religious freedom and the ability to practice the faith of your choosing is foundational to our country.”

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