We started with a film on Friday night, Ballot Measure 9, which showed the battle in Oregon over LGBT rights in the 1990s. One hundred fifty students and community members from nearby Las Vegas, NM joined the viewing and a discussion that focused on conservative religious attempts to amend the state constitution to create a second-class citizenship for LGBT Oregonians. The ballot measure stated that “All levels of government, including public education systems, must assist in setting a standard for Oregon's youth which recognizes that these behaviors are abnormal, wrong, unnatural and perverse and they are to be discouraged and avoided.” We discussed the impact of religiously-driven public policy in a lively back-and-forth after the screening. While the film spoke specifically to the issues of LGBT rights, the discussion extended to a much broader conversation about what religious freedom means in America.
On Saturday, we held a workshop with 26 students on religious freedom issues ranging from a sharing of different beliefs to an analysis of how the media covers religion, public policy issues and intercultural communications. Diana Eck’s article “How Do We Cope with Increasing Religious Diversity?“ was at the core of our discussions throughout the day. One of the most interesting discussions that day centered on a conflict that arose between the Muslim students and the Buddhist students at UWC over the ritual sacrifice of two lambs as part of a celebration of Eid al-Adha. Celebrated by Muslims worldwide, Eid al-Adha commemorates the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son Ishmael as an act of obedience to God, before God intervened to substitute a lamb to sacrifice instead. The Buddhist students objected to the slaughter and had even tried to purchase one of the lambs in order to save its life. A heated discussion was tempered by a conversation about religious freedom that centered on civility, understanding, mutual respect and peaceful resolutions. The tension dissipated and the UWC staff commented on how the LEADD workshop helped to diffuse what had been a difficult situation.
After such a successful program and an impact on so many of our youth, we hope to continue with Weekend LEADD programs at UWC in the future.