Protesters face off over King's hearingsBy VÍCTOR MANUEL RAMOS
February 23, 2011
Opponents of Rep. Peter King's hearings on what he calls the threat of homegrown Islamic terrorism gathered in Massapequa Park Tuesday to show support for Muslims.
The religious event, called a "pray-in" by organizers, drew about a hundred people. It also prompted counterprotesters who tried to drown out calls for tolerance by Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders, and community activists.
Prayer organizers sang hymns, read from the Gospel of Matthew and the Quran, and warned of tensions the hearings could cause.
"We don't want to give any assistance to bigotry and persecution," said Sister Jeanne Clark, a Catholic nun with Pax Christi Long Island. "None of you has faith until you love for your neighbor what you love for yourself. That's why we are here today."
King (R-Seaford) dismissed the event as a small gathering that doesn't represent most Long Islanders. "I will not be intimidated, I will not back down," he said in a statement. "The hearings are going forward" in mid-March.
While a few counterprotesters shouted insults against Islam, the 11 a.m. event outside King's district office proceeded peacefully for about an hour and a half. Police set up barricades separating both sides.
People in the prayer group held paper signs with symbols of different religions and displayed a large printout quoting George Washington on his birthday: "To bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance."
King supporters resented the bigotry label and said the hearings are part of the work the congressman is doing to protect the nation. Felicia Chillak of Setauket held a sign that read: "Nothing is more expensive than regret."
King "is doing the right thing," said Tim Brown, a retired New York City fireman who said he survived the Twin Towers' collapse on 9/11. "This country's biggest challenge going forward is homegrown terrorism and the radicalization of American citizens," he said.
Prayer rally participants said their protest was not against fighting terrorism, but against discrimination.
"I just can't believe that the American government, which was founded on human rights and all people being created equal, would dare to say about members of any particular religion that they are a threat," said Marci Bellows, rabbi at Temple B'nai Torah in Wantagh.
The hearings before the House Homeland Security Committee are slated to begin in a couple of weeks. King chairs the panel.