On Sunday morning, July 20, the sacred time and space of a historic New Orleans congregation was violated. As congregants of First Unitarian Universalist Church, founded in 1833, held a moment of silent prayer to grieve a young woman of the church who had died the previous week, protestors from Operation Save America began to harangue the minister and spew words of hate to and at the congregation. In shock, but with increasing pain as these diatribes continued, the congregation listened quietly as protestors vilified and insulted them. Soon, though, the protestors were ushered out of the church.

As this was happening in the sanctuary, other protesters, holding grotesque images, massed around the windows of the church nursery, screaming at the babies and toddlers. Youth were told they were “going to hell” and that their family members were suffering from illness due to their sins. The church members responded by singing words of love, justice and freedom to counteract this hateful rhetoric.

For religious communities in the United States, the freedom to worship is a deeply cherished right. Whatever our faith, whenever we worship, the right to worship as we choose was fought for by our ancestors and is vital to all today. Along with this freedom comes the right to disagree, which is one part of the pluralism created by our religious freedom.

But all of us agree that no one has the right to desecrate the sacred worship time and space in order to express their disagreement. The undersigned people of faith do not agree on everything. In fact, some of us only agree that we have the right to disagree. But that is enough. No congregation, whatever their views may be, should have their sacred worship time and space violated. Not ever. Not by anybody.

I and 39 other local religious leaders by this letter call on the larger community to stand with us, with hearts joined on the side of love and in opposition to religious terrorism.

The Rev. Jim VanderWeele

New Orleans

The Rev. William Barnwell

The Rev. Paul Beedle

The Rev. Claire Vonk Brooks

The Rev. Gary Brooks

Pat Bryant, co-moderator, Justice and Beyond

The Rev. Callie Winn Crawford

Rabbi Edward Paul Cohn

The Rev. Jeff Conner

The Rev. Rob Courtney

The Rev. Don Frampton

The Rev. Lauren Frazier-McGuin

The Rev. Joann M. Garma

Vanessa Gueringer, vice president, A Community Voice

Michael G. Hackett, deacon, Diocese of Louisiana

The Very Rev. AJ Heine

The Rev. Henry L. Hudson

The Rev. Eronica C. King

Rabbi Ethan Linden

Rabbi Robert H. Loewy

The Rev. Dr. Jane Mauldin

The Rev. Priscilla Maumus

The Rev. Herbert McGuin, III

Rabbi Barbara Metzger

The Rev. Melanie Morel-Ensminger

Max Niedzwiecki, convener

Tom Paine, pastor

The Rev. Fred Powell, III

The Rev. Tony Rigoli, OMI

The Rev. Darcy Roake

Minister Norbert Rome

The Rev. Mitchell Smith

Dr. William Soileau

The Rev. William H. Terry

The Rev. William Thiele, Ph.D.

The Rev. Jennie Thomas

The Rev. Ron Unger

The Rev. Deanna Vandiver

The Rev. Tom Watson

The Rev. Dwight Webster, Ph. D.