Faith Leaders of the Magic Valley are organizing a rally for religious freedom. It’s slated for 11 a.m. to noon Saturday at Twin Falls City Park.
Organizers say it’s a grassroots effort, and the purpose is to celebrate the diversity of religions in Twin Falls and to exercise freedom of religion. It’s a direct response to the Islamic Center incident, which Twin Falls police have called a hate crime.
Following the incident, “a lot of community leaders felt very concerned about why that happened,” said Haroon Rashid, an outreach leader for the Islamic Center and one of the rally’s organizers. “We wanted to set up a rally in support of all religious groups in the Twin Falls area.”
In late October, someone left a cross in the Islamic Center’s parking lot, police said. About 4 feet tall, it was wrapped in bacon, pig’s feet and a tongue.
The incident was the latest in a string of vandalism at Twin Falls’ only mosque dating back to 2015, when anti-Muslim sentiments began to take hold as the community debated refugee resettlement.
Saturday’s rally will send a message, Rashid said. “This is to show others and people in the community that we are a welcoming town and this sort of behavior will not be tolerated.”
“We believe that most members of the community felt similarly to the way we did,” said Brian Johns, who’s also organizing the event, in seeing the Islamic Center incident as a “targeted assault on someone else’s religion.”
Organizers say the rally will be family friendly and they’re striving to make it non-political.
The event will feature speakers — including Twin Falls Mayor Shawn Barigar, Twin Falls County Commissioner Don Hall, Sen. Lee Heider of Twin Falls and a few religious leaders — as well as music and refreshments.
The rally will end with a “hands across the park” prayer. It will hopefully help people feel closer to each other, Rashid said.
“We won’t ever agree on theology,” he said, but added community members can have their differences while living as neighbors and respecting each other.
The rally is an opportunity to get together in a safe place, said Johns, who’s bishop of Kimberly’s Third Ward for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “Everyone should be free to worship free from fear.”
“Freedom of religion is a right we have in the United States,” Rashid said, “and I think anytime that right is encroached upon, I think we need to make sure we resist.”
The interfaith group organizing Saturday’s rally includes Johns, Rashid, First Presbyterian Church of Twin Falls pastor Phil Price, Twin Falls First United Methodist Church pastor Mike Hollomon, and Christopher Reid, an LDS bishop and member of Twin Falls City Council.
“I think the really neat thing is that we’re not trying to proselytize each other in this group,” Johns said. “We’re not trying to say ‘what I believe is better than what you believe.’”
The members get along, he said, have developed a friendship, and trust and respect one another.