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Racial Concerns Committee

Children remove the tarp covering the sign in front of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Stony Brook. Adrienne Lauren Photography

A Three Village community group once again is taking a stand against injustice.

On Sept. 9, after their Homecoming Sunday service, members of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Stony Brook unveiled a sign that asserts the congregation members stances on social justice and human dignity issues. The unveiling wasn’t the first time the congregation declared its beliefs for all to see. In 2016, the members erected a Black Lives Matter sign. During the months it was displayed, the sign was vandalized numerous times and residents against it sent various emails, according to the Rev. Margie Allen. The sign was eventually taken down.

Visitors attend the unveiling of the sign. Adrienne Lauren Photography

Allen said the current sign, just like the former, is located in front of the building and placed so drivers traveling north on Nicolls Road can see it. The sign reads: “Love is Love; Climate Change is Real; Black Lives Matter; No Human Being is Illegal; Women’s Rights are Human Rights; and All Genders are Whole, Holy & Good.” A different color of the rainbow highlights each line on the sign.

The UUFSB acquired the sign from the Unitarian Universalist Association, according to Allen. Town hall meetings were held at the sanctuary to discuss whether or not to erect a sign, and the congregation was able to choose it from several options and then modified the colors and changed the order of the declarations.

“This banner is the fulfillment of multiple votes of the congregation to put up a sign that will let our community know that we believe — we affirm — the worth and dignity of every human being,” Allen said, adding while it includes the black lives matters message, it broadens the example of who deserves access to the American Dream.

On the day of the unveiling ceremony, Allen said the congregants sang and held a procession from the sanctuary to the sign, listened to a few introductory words from Barbara Coley, co-chair of the Racial Concerns Committee, and then children cut the ropes of the tarp that was covering it. Each statement was read by an individual, and the crowd echoed it. Before heading back to the sanctuary, Allen led the group in a dedication prayer.

“I’m just really proud that the congregation as a whole has made a powerful effort to figure out how to have the kinds of conversations that we actually need in every community in our country and nationally,” Allen said. “The kind of conversations in which people who have different views come to understand the places where their views overlap and then agree to stand in those places that overlap as a community so our voices as a whole can be heard.”

Chris Filstrup, president of the board, said the board members strongly supported the installation of the sign, and congregation members were discussing a new sign for a year. He said he hopes drivers passing by will read it, enjoy it and think about the points.

“It’s a statement,” he said. “It’s our statement. These are the things which are important to us.”

He said he admires Allen for encouraging the congregants to do something, and he said the board is committed to it staying.

“We have a policy,” he said. “We’re not putting it up to invite vandalism or anything, but if there is, we will involve the authorities. We’re going to keep this sign up one way or another.”

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A Black Lives Matter banner below the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship sign is now gone. Photo by Sylvia Kirk

The Black Lives Matter banner that was affixed on July 3 beneath the sign identifying the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship on Nicolls Road was removed July 24.

Eileen and Sol Hummel, owners of the Imagination Pre-School, which has rented space in the fellowship for 20 years, discouraged its placement when they were first told it would go up.

Eileen Hummel said she responded to the notification with an email that simply read, “It’s going to hurt our business.” She said she made several subsequent requests to have the banner removed, including forwarding emails received from parents expressing dismay.

“The safety of the children is the most important thing for us,” Hummel said. She said police officers whose children attend the school were upset about the banner, and others were concerned about safety at the school because the message has created a heated debate nationwide in recent months.

“The safety of the children is the most important thing for us.”
— Eileen Hummel

The timing of its placement, shortly before the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, and the subsequent shootings of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, intensified the controversy surrounding the banner.

“We hoped to have a discussion with the community about the need for reform in police practices,” said Peggy Cohee, a member of the fellowship’s Racial Concerns Committee. “We feel it’s a social justice issue, not an anti-police issue.”

Concerned about the possibility of legal action against the fellowship, Cohee said its board of trustees decided to remove the banner temporarily, pending a discussion among the entire congregation.

“I don’t think this is finished yet,” Hummel said. “The fellowship informed us they are having a community meeting.” She was told the preschool parents would be invited to attend.

“I’m not against the church,” Hummel said, “I’m against the banner.” She thought they should move it inside the fellowship hall.

Hummel’s response to the banner was “all lives matter,” according to Cohee. “While we agree [with Hummel], our concern is that we can truly say that only when it applies to everyone.”