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04/11/2016

Proposed resolution 'welcoming all people' referred to council workshop

The Town Council on April 10, 2017 referred to a workshop a proposed resolution on "welcoming all people."

A group of Cape Elizabeth residents requested the council adopt the statement that the town welcomes people of all cultures and faiths; condemns actions of violence, hate or discrimination; and that anyone targeted should be able to turn to the town's officials for protection without fear of retribution.

All councilors said they agree with the premise of the resolve, but also want to be sure the its wording - as submitted by the Cape Diversity Coalition - does not create "unintended consequences."

What those consequences might be varied among councilors. Some were concerned that listing vulnerable groups in the resolution risks leaving some people out. Other said that supporting one group's request for a town resolution will set a precedent for other groups. Others cited concerns about wording expressed by the police chief and by the town attorney.

"I think we need to spend some more time, do some more discussion, maybe talk with some more people so that we come back with a product that's something that everybody can say, 'I agree with this,'" said Councilor Kathy Ray.

Councilor Sara Lennon introduced the proposal, which she said came to her from Jamie Wagner, a former councilor. Two representatives from the Cape Diversity Coalition, Woodcrest Road resident Jim Sparks and Belfield Road resident Susana Measelle Hubbs, who is also a member of the School Board, asked for the council's support. "Our town has the opportunity tonight to make a proactive and symbolic commitment to welcoming and protecting the rights of any and all of our community members and visitors," said Measelle Hubbs. "I urge you to model for our children that hate is not tolerable and silence is cowardly, and ... I urge all of us to stand together as true beacons of life, liberty and light."

The resolution stems from an incident last fall involving "unkind, threatening and racist" remarks from middle-school age students from at a High School football game, said School Superintendent Howard Colter. He said he did not believe the students were disciplined, but that administrators used the opportunity to reinforce values and beliefs, to educate rather be punitive. "In the end, we made it clear that what happened shouldn't be repeated," he said.

Sparks said the incident prompted him to bring the Cape Diversity Coalition together. "I felt that something had to be done, I didn't know what shape it would take - but it seemed crystal clear to me that the people of our town needed to gather and say it was not OK for people of color, for people who are Muslim or for people who immigrated here from another country to be told that they did not belong," he said. Others have organized in town, he said, including a student-led group that recently hosted a welcoming potluck dinner attended by 170 people.

Sparks said he understood the concerns of the council, but said he also viewed the document as embracing the best of American values. He quoted President John F. Kennedy, "The rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened."

The council is likely to discuss the resolution at their workshop May 1.

Here is the text of the proposed resolution: [download]

RESOLUTION WELCOMING PEOPLE OF EVERY RACE, RELIGION, NATIONALITY, GENDER, ETHNICITY OR SEXUAL ORIENTATION INTO OUR COMMUNITY

WHEREAS, the United States of America has long stood as a haven for immigrants persecuted in other lands seeking liberty and the right to practice religion as they choose;

WHEREAS, foreign-born residents richly contribute to the quality of life in Cape Elizabeth, as do people of many faiths;

WHEREAS, Cape Elizabeth supports respectful listening and dialogue across social and political divides, and rejects actions that stifle even unpopular points of view;

WHEREAS, we elected representatives of Cape Elizabeth have a leadership responsibility to speak out against discrimination, intolerance, violence or hate;

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT HEREBY RESOLVED, that the town of Cape Elizabeth:

1. Condemns actions of hate, violence or discrimination directed toward immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers or any persons targeted for their religion, ethnicity, race, nationality, gender, immigration status or sexual orientation;

2.  Welcomes residents of all cultures and faiths, celebrates the benefits of a pluralistic society, and defends the inalienable right of every person to live and practice their identity, culture and faith without fear;

3. Affirms that anyone targeted on the basis of nationality, religion, race, ethnicity, gender, immigration status or sexual orientation should be able to turn to the town’s officials for protection without fear of retribution;

4. Encourages forums where civil and respectful dialogue may take place to promote better understanding.