The movement comes as president-elect Donald Trump has promised waves of mass deportations of undocumented immigrants, Muslim registries and bans on refugees from countries suffering from terrorism.
Organizers with the Amos Project announced Jan. 18 a half-dozen congregations representing Islam, Judaism and Christianity are ready to become sanctuary sites— those willing to host undocumented people in their buildings — or solidarity congregations willing to provide other kinds of support to undocumented people and others who may be targeted under the new administration.
Faith leaders at a news conference today said the move was proactive, given Trump's promises and a "climate shift" in the community, including an increase in hate speech, vandalism like the incident that struck Hebrew Union College earlier this month and even physical violence against vulnerable people. Representatives from the congregations joining the network said that they will vet those seeking sanctuary to make sure they don't pose a danger to those around them, but also decried the fear stirred up by what they said is political rhetoric around terrorism and crime attributed to undocumented immigrants. Most data shows that those immigrants don't bring crime with them, though Trump and other politicians have raised alarms about them.
Clifton Mosque, Temple Sholom, University Christian Church, Clifton United Methodist Church, Christ Church Cathedral and the Church of Our Savior, among others, have agreed to become part of that movement. Rev. Troy Jackson with the Amos Project, which has helped organize the Cincinnati Sanctuary Network, says at least two dozen other congregations are in the process of joining the movement, including two Catholic parishes.
"Some of them are coming very, very soon," Jackson said.
Temple Sholom’s Rabbi Miriam Terlinchamp, who is president of the Amos Project, says her synagogue felt called to the movement by a sense of responsibility and of history.
“As a Jew, I have a unique connection to sanctuary project,” Terlinchamp says. “There were people in every generation who have helped us. Now, people are vulnerable and this is something tangible we can do.”
Temple Sholom will be a solidarity congregation since it doesn’t have housing facilities. Other faith organizations have signed on to become sanctuary sites and are preparing to modify their buildings to handle residents.
Christ Church Cathedral and Clifton Mosque will be among the sites that will house people seeking sanctuary.
"We became a sanctuary congregation because there are things that are just morally and ethically right," said Imam Ismaeel Chartier. "The underground railroad was illegal but it was morally and ethically right. To throw away human beings and say they don't belong simply because they weren't born on a hunk of dirt that I was born on is ludicrous. It's immoral and unethical."
Organizers with the movement say other congregations are working through their organizations’ decision-making processes and look likely to sign on in the coming weeks. The project kicked off last month with a meeting at Clifton Mosque where more than 150 representatives from dozens of faith congregations gathered to learn more about protecting undocumented people.
"Sanctuary is one of the most ancient traditions we share as people of faith," Rev. Gail Greenwell of Christ Church Cathedral said at a news conference announcing the congregations today. "All of our religious traditions encourage us to offer sanctuary to the foreigner, the vulnerable and the oppressed. We're acting out of this religious tradition not as a response specifically to partisan politics, but to the recent political climate and the increased incidence of hate speech and violence, which has caused concern within members of our community. They fear for their personal safety, and we feel that we must respond proactively while praying that our leaders will legislate compassionately."
More events are coming, Jackson says, including a teach-in about sanctuary at the Church of Our Savior in Mount Auburn Feb. 26 at 4 pm.