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story.lead_photo.caption Arkansas Democrat-Gazette moral crisis illustration. - Photo by Nikki Dawes

Area faith leaders who have strongly opposed the separation of migrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border will be among those pushing for additional change today at the Families Belong Together rally in Little Rock.

The event is set to begin at 5:30 p.m. at the state Capitol. Rallies also are being held today in Fayetteville, Fort Smith, Hot Springs and Jonesboro in conjunction with the national Families Belong Together rally in Washington and hundreds of other rallies nationwide.

The Arkansas rallies come the week after church leaders of different faiths held a news conference at Little Rock's First United Methodist Church to express concern about the U.S. Justice Department's zero-tolerance policy. The policy sought to prosecute adults crossing the border into the United States, and resulted in the detainment of thousands of children separate from their parents.

Some Arkansas religious leaders have been vocal about the treatment of migrants and refugees, releasing a statement of unity months before U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the zero-tolerance policy May 7.

The statement was signed by more than 120 Arkansas faith leaders and called for -- among other changes -- education and advocacy against "the sins of oppressing the immigrants and sojourners in our midst."

Rabbi Barry Block of Congregation B'nai Israel in Little Rock spoke of "cruel, highly restrictive" immigration policies instituted in the 1920s that prohibited people from migrating to the United States from eastern and southern Europe, and ultimately led to the prevention of Jewish people from immigrating to the States during the Holocaust.

Block noted that the theme of "Remember the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt," is repeated 36 times in the Book of Moses.

"All Americans have been strangers or their ancestors were at one time or another," Block said. "We must all remember the stranger, and welcome them with open arms in this land of freedom and opportunity."

"We think it's a moral crisis in our country, I think, that we're treating people at the border in this way," said Clint Schnekloth, pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Fayetteville. "And I think it's a moral crisis because at a very basic level, how have we even allowed this to be where we are? This is what we're fighting over -- something as simple as that we should treat children well."

Schnekloth is also founder and chairman of Canopy Northwest Arkansas, an affiliate of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service that helps migrants and refugees with resettlement.

Schnekloth spent part of this week with a group of Arkansas high school students in Houston attending the 2018 Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Youth Gathering, which drew 35,000 young people nationwide to engage in service and learning.

Schnekloth said he will attend the Families Belong Together gathering today in Houston, along with a number of clergy that includes the faith's presiding bishop, Elizabeth Eaton, and Michael Rinehart, bishop of the faith's Gulf Coast Synod.

David Cook, legislative director for Faith Voice Arkansas, the organization that put together the news conference last week at First United Methodist Church, called on Arkansans of all faith backgrounds to allow their "values of compassion and mercy, and love of neighbor as yourself, to inform their responses to the issue at the border."

"We thought that the policy that was in effect that allowed for the separation of children from their parents was unjust and immoral ... [and] that our policymakers and us as Americans should do a lot better than that," Cook said on behalf of the nonprofit, which works on legislation at state and federal levels.

News that President Donald Trump had signed an executive order aimed at halting family separations at the border reached First United during the news conference, and was announced, Cook said. That order was followed Tuesday by a California judge's court order to reunite all children with their parents within 30 days, and within 14 days for children under the age of 5.

"As a bishop in the church, my heart hurts deeply for the plight of the families," said Bishop Gary Mueller of the United Methodist Church's Arkansas Conference, who described the executive order as a good but "insufficient" first step toward reuniting families.

"I think 30 days is still 30 days too long, and we're seeing only slow progress out of that," said Haley Jones, a pastor at First United Methodist Church in Little Rock. "I think we just have to keep pushing for a responsible response."

Religion on 06/30/2018

Print Headline: 'It's a moral crisis': Families Belong Together rally takes stand on treatment of children at border

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