Few channels showed the prayer service held at Newtown Congregational Church last December, and it didn’t get a lot of press. But in watching, it was hard not to believe, if Americans can hold a meeting that recognizes and honors many of the world’s religions with such taste and dignity, there may be hope for the future.
The Congregational Church, Congregational Adath Israel Synagogue, United Methodist, Trinity Episcopal, New Home Community Church, Al-Hedaya Islamic Center, Baha’i Faith Community, Lutheran Home of Southbury, Christian Church, King Lutheran, and the St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church came together for a common purpose: to help heal their community.
After the host minister welcomed the audience, including the secular, small groups of two or three church leaders, representing different faiths, came to the podium.
The Jewish Kaddish and the Islamic Salat al-Janazah were sung. Excerpts from different holy books: the Quran (Muslim), the Kitab-i-Aqdas (Baha’i), the Torah (Judaism), and many versions of the Christian Bible were read.
Traditional and specific prayers were given including one for the emergency responders and one for the counselors, clergy, and caretakers.
Our president spoke next about some of what he had learned in his private meetings with the families. One of the teachers had told him that she had moved her class to a bathroom for safety. They waited there, listening to the sounds of slaughter. In the quiet that followed, the teacher was trying to decide if it was safe to leave their shelter. One of her students reassured her, saying, “Don’t worry. I know karate. I’ll lead the way out.”
President Obama said our primary task must be to protect our nation’s children. “It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged. And by that measure, can we truly say, as a nation, that we’re meeting our obligations?”
Acknowledging the complexity of the issue, he said, “No single law, no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society, but that can’t be an excuse for inaction.”
As of this writing, 1,546 Americans have died since December 14, 2012. This tally includes 90 teenagers and 23 under the age of 13. Nationwide, an average of 85 Americans are killed (as the result of firearms) every day.
The president did not say he was “coming for your guns” or that the Second Amendment was null and void. But this family man, this daddy, did say, “If there’s even one step we can take to save another child or another parent or another town from the grief that’s visited Tucson and Aurora and Oak Creek and Newtown and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that, then surely we have an obligation to try.”
Except for the extreme few, Americans are not comfortable with the status quo. In fact, 89 percent of those surveyed are in favor of universal background checks. Close to 70 percent favor new laws banning military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips.
Testifying before Congress, Mark Kelly, husband of Gabrielle Giffords, pointed out it was bullet number 13 that killed 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green. Given the shooter had been tackled while he was trying to reload the 33-round magazine, it is possible that had he been limited to a 10-round magazine, that little girl might still be alive.
The Second Amendment calls for a militia that is “well-regulated.” Choosing reasonable regulations will make it possible to also honor the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” as it is written in the Declaration of Independence
The right to “bear arms” should not override the right to not be shot.
As Giffords told the Senate Judiciary Committee, “The time is now. You must act. Be bold, be courageous; Americans are counting on you.”
Our children deserve nothing less.