By Nicole D. Batey,
Special to the AFRO
More than 50 faith leaders from a diverse coalition of faith communities rallied together virtually on Feb. 22 for the purposes of “Protecting the Gift of Creation” in support of the Environmental Human Rights Amendment
Too often, neighborhoods consisting of mostly Black, Brown and low-income Marylanders, are forced to bear an extra burden of pollution. These communities are targeted as the location for dirty power plants, car-clogged highways, toxic landfills, and more. This Amendment to the Maryland Constitution would preserve a right to a healthy environment for all Marylanders, not just communities with the power and resources to keep polluters out.
Unlike environmental regulations, which address only a particular issue, the environmental human rights amendment would “create a structure in which people’s environmental rights need to be taken into consideration,” Delegate Wanika Fisher said in a Bay Journal article.
Climate Equity at Interfaith Power and Light DMV and Maryland Campaign for Environmental Human rights hosted the virtual rally of state-wide faith leaders to urge the General Assembly of the state of Maryland to pass HB596/SB783.
The rally opened with the song, “I’ve Got a Right to the Tree of Life,” and was followed by a welcome from Nina Beth Cardin, an ordained rabbi and Director of MD Campaign for Environmental Human Rights
“Creation belongs to all of us and none of us should be unfairly or overly burdened with environmental degradation. We should care for the earth, as we need to so that the earth can care for us,” Cardin said in her opening remarks.
The Rev. Dellyne Hinton, the pastor of Gwynn Oak and Arlington-Lewin United Methodist Churches, member of the advisory circle for MDEHR and proud “earth keeper”, emceed the rally.
Faith leaders from the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Unitarian Universalists and Quaker communities spoke about how their faith traditions value taking care of creation, our waters, our lands and especially our fellow human beings who depend on a healthful and stainable environment.
“These voices are different, each and everyone—some young, some old, some new, some experienced. Each voice is different, but we’re all about the same thing—caring for God’s creation in a way that will benefit all of creation, not just humankind,” Hinton reminded participants as each speaker shared from their faith perspective.
The first speaker, Karie Firoozmand is a member of Stony Run Friends Meeting—a Quaker community and provides leadership within her congregation regarding the climate crisis. As she spoke during the rally, what moved so many were the periods of “sacred silence” in which Firoozmand would intentionally pause during her speech for a moment of stillness—to calm her spirit and listen. This allowed those in the rally, listeners and speakers, to pause and take a listening moment as well. She then continued on sharing with raw emotion the challenge of getting others to embrace the “earth-care, person-to-creation work.”
Next, Rabbi Michael S. Webber, of Columbia Jewish Center, noted that in Jewish tradition it is customary to pray the Shema Yisrael, found in Deuteronomy 6:4, three times a day.
“Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord is one,” Webber reminded audiences the prayer said. “With this, we are reminded that we are a small, yet powerful piece within a sacred whole. What we do matters and impacts the wellness of the whole system- what the trees breathe out we breathe in, what we breathe out, the trees breathe in. This is the sacred inter-breathing of all life,” said Webber.
The Rev. Mary Gaut, a former pastor of the Maryland Presbyterian Church and former board member of the Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake, said “We believe it is a divine mandate to care for each other and for the world that was created.”
“The beauty of this proposed amendment is that it is un-ambivalent, framed in the language of core values of caring for each other, as we care for ourselves,” Gault continued. “In this amendment, every person has the fundamental and inalienable right to a healthy and sustainable environment.”
Dr. Shahid Rafiq, president of the United Maryland Muslims Council and Director of Stroke and Neurology at Holy Cross Hospital of Frederick Health Care Systems, offered his perspective on the need for this legislative amendment.
“We are so passionate about this, conserving the environment, to keep it clean, especially the water. We need to do more in letting Muslims know that this is more than just being a good citizen, it’s also about reaching outside our community,” Rafiq said. “We definitely support this bill.”
The Rev. Ken Phelps, Jr., who is a part of the Maryland Episcopal Public Policy Network, had a message to keep fighting.
“This is the time to set our face for Annapolis once more concerning our environment and our rights to enjoy it in all of its beauty and wonder. We have come too far on this journey to turn back now. We must carry this message to the finish line. We must agitate those whose vote will decide if this amendment moves beyond the legislature or dies under the weight of special interests,” Phelps said.
“How can there be justice and equity if one part of society is reaping all the benefits, while another is paying all the costs,” questioned the Rev. Paige Getty, minister of Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia. “Environmental degradation harms marginalized communities disproportionately and with alarming regularity and intensity. And we know that these communities due to the vestiges of years of racial discrimination, do not have the resources to engage in lengthy and expensive legislative remedies for the environmental pollution in which they live and that kills them.”
“This injustice can and must be remediated,” Getty continued. “Legislators out there, justice demands that you vote in favor of this amendment so that in November, all of us who are faithful can vote in favor of it too.”
MDEHR and the Maryland Chapter of the Sierra Club have submitted a combined petition of support with over 2,300 signatures to the House. 4,000 signatures are needed for their submission to the Maryland State Senate. Sixty percent of the House and Senate need to vote in favor of the amendment. The passing of this amendment will help ensure each person’s right to a healthful and sustainable environment.To take action or learn more about HB596/SB783 —the Environmental Human Rights Amendment— go to www.MDEHR.org.
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