Our Position

Written Testimony on Ohio HB No. 294

TO: Members of the Oversight Committee, Ohio House of Representatives


My name is Tammy Bennett and I am testifying on behalf of EquaSion, a Cincinnati-based, non partisan civic organization that involves more than 30 faith traditions representing 14 world religions in its efforts to promote inclusion, equity and justice for all. I serve on EquaSion’s board of directors.

I am testifying against HB 294 primarily for the reasons set forth below.

On November 2, 2020, Ohio’s Secretary of State LaRose stated that the estimated 3.4 million Ohioans who voted early by absentee ballot or in person shattered previous records. Now, if passed, rather than to improve upon this success and continue to expand access and modern conveniences to eligible Ohio voters, the overall effect of HB 294 would restrict access to this fundamental right. While the bill provides some positive, constructive provisions, in totality it disproportionately limits voting access for Black and Brown communities.

Here are a few of the provisions that significantly harm Black and Brown communities along with the elderly, disabled and impoverished.

HB 294 codifies a 2020 restriction limiting the number of ballot drop boxes to one per county located only at the Board of Elections. This means that larger, more diverse urban counties are limited in the number of ballots that can be collected via drop box. There is a lack of known, verifiable security or integrity risk posed by ballot drop boxes. Further, HB 294 reduces the number of days the drop boxes are available from 30 to 10. Reducing the number of early voting days does not preserve, expand and/or modernize voting access rather such provisions restrict Ohioans’ from exercising their fundamental right.

In addition to reducing ballot drop box availability, the bill also reduces the number of early voting days and hours. Significantly, the bill eliminates one of the most popular early votes days, the Monday before Election Day. It does so in spite of a record setting turnout in 2020 and with high voter turnout in prior years on this date. The legislative purpose behind the cancellation is to prepare for Election Day. This rationale does not pass muster. Preparation for an event should not take precedent over active participation in the event. Here, the bill contemplates preparation is more important than actually allowing citizens to cast their votes. Again, every provision in a bill proposing to modernize the voting process ought to expand opportunities not restrict them.

According to the Secretary of State’s website, in 2020, Ohioans submitted nearly 3.8 million applications for absentee ballots. Following this record success in 2020, HB 294 attempts to restrict the number of absentee ballots by moving the deadline up seven days, which serves no apparent purpose other than to limit the number of absentee ballots.

Additionally, other provisions of the bill further restrict Ohioans’ access to vote, including, by the way of example, requiring two forms of voter ID for registration and limiting the existing ability of the Ohio Secretary of State to prepay postage on election mail.

Even assuming, for the sake of an argument, that the bill is well-intended, its passage would disproportionately harm Black and Brown communities and negatively affect equity work. Its passage would deepen injustices by restricting the “vote-voice” of historically marginalized groups rather than promote racial equity and end systemic injustices.

In closing, I urge you to reject HB 294 in its present form and at the very least delete from its provisions those proposals that restrict voter access and are detrimental to the civic participation of our minority communities.

Thank you for your consideration.

Respectfully submitted:
Tammy Bennett, Attorney at Law, Member, Board of Directors
9830 Tollgate Lane, Cincinnati, OH 45242; (513) 806-9650

Our Position

Racial Incident in West Chester

To: Ann Becker, Trustee and Chair
Lee Wong, Trustee
Mark Welch, Trustee
Larry Burks, Township Administrator
Bruce Jones, Fiscal Officer

West Chester Township, Ohio

Honorable Trustees, Mr. Burks, and Mr. Jones:

We are writing to you about the incident of racism that occurred this week (11/20/20) at the home of Brian and Mia Harlan, 7737 Barret Road in West Chester. In a brash and threatening act, an anonymous hate letter was hand delivered to the Harlan’s home warning them to remove the Biden/Harris and Black Lives Matter signage on their property or face the consequences. The letter states, in part, “…this is West Chester, not Avondale, so keep your murderer types out of here… it was peaceful at one time, and if those (expletive) signs aint’ (sic) gone you are gonna be.”

View the Hate Letter

This is simply not the West Chester we know and love. We know this community as a diverse, progressive and welcoming suburb. As proud residents of West Chester, we also represent the Cincinnati Regional Coalition Against Hate, and EquaSion, a non-partisan civic organization founded upon interfaith dialogue that fosters greater understanding and respect for all people in our region. On their behalf, we have reached out to support the Harlans.

We know that West Chester Police immediately responded and are investigating this hate incident. While the Harlans have expressed their gratitude to the police, they have conveyed their understandable feelings of fear and stress from this terrible incident. No one should be made to feel fear in their homes or unwelcome in their community.

We respectfully ask you, our Trustees, to stand up and speak out. We believe it would be most meaningful for this victimized family – and this community – to be reassured by our public leadership that hate behavior is not only uncharacteristic of West Chester, but altogether unwelcome. Your involvement and exercise of leadership in this matter would send a strong message to those who would promote hate in our community.

We share the belief that one can only remove evil with good and can only remove hate with love. Let us be accountable to and for one another, and let us become more engaged in working together for the dignity and well-being of all of our neighbors. In short, let us come together as a caring community should!

We welcome your response. If there is anything EquaSion can do to assist you, please let us know. Thank you for your attention to this critical issue.


Jaipal Singh & Aasees Kaur
6425 Gem Stone Dr,
Liberty Township, 45044

Jan Armstong Cobb & Barry Cobb
9881 Bolingbroke Drive
West Chester 45241

Our Position

Voter Intimidation Incident

EquaSion response to voter intimidation incident, Hamilton County Board of Elections

TO: Gwen McFarlin, Chair; Alex M. Triantafilou, Board Member; Caleb Faux, Board Member; Charles H. Gerhardt III, Board Member; Sherry L. Poland, Director of Elections; Hamilton County Board of Elections

The reports of voter intimidation by those exercising their right of free speech are beyond concerning—they are disturbing. For Board of Elections officials to say they “are reviewing (measures being taken to ensure voters are not harassed)” speaks perhaps to the absence of a plan or a lack of training of poll workers and poll observers to identify, intervene, and diffuse situations that interfere with any voter, per Ohio law.

EquaSion stands with the Cincinnati NAACP, the Cincinnati Regional Coalition Against Hate, and others condemning any and all evidence of voter harassment during this election cycle.

Right now: EquaSion will step forward immediately to offer clergy monitors to serve as a calming force at the polls on Election Day, Nov. 3. Further, members of our multi-faith organization will answer the call for in-person orientation of poll workers and poll observers to prepare them to constructively intervene in potential acts of voter intimidation. Thank you.

Our Position

Killing of George Floyd

Statement from Cincinnati’s Interfaith Community on the Killing of George Floyd

We, the undersigned members of more than 30 faith communities representing 13 world religions, stand united in denouncing the unconscionable killing of George Floyd by officers of the Minneapolis Police Department and the on-going systemic racism that corrupts justice in our country. Our prayers go out to the family of Mr. Floyd and to Minneapolis city officials our plea is that they bring the one officer to justice and continue to investigate the legal culpability of the others. While we affirm the right of protest and resonate with the public’s outcry, we deplore violence and vandalism as means of expression.

Too many African American men and women have lost their lives due to police brutality. The persistence of this injustice in spite of numerous police reforms reveals that we have much work yet to do to root out the institutional racism deeply ingrained in not only the law enforcement establishment but in all areas of society.

Our community of Cincinnati has had its own history of police mistreatment of African Americans, but to its credit the Cincinnati Police Department has owned its accountability and adopted practices and policies to lessen the potential for the use of excessive force. Prompted by civil unrest in the aftermath of a 2001 police shooting and a subsequent lawsuit that resulted in the historic Collaborative Agreement, CPD’s police-community reforms have become the model for other communities. Yet, we, too, must remain ever vigilant.

We need to stop paying lip service and honestly address the societal problems caused by our racial inequities, evidenced recently by the disparities in the infection rate of COVID-19. We must commit ourselves to eradicating systemic inequities and doing more to close the social distance gap that still exists between our racial, religious and ethnic groups. Our community’s minorities continue to be victimized by bigotry and hate.

All of our religious traditions, without exception, have tenets that call for their believers to behave toward their fellow human beings with compassion, respect and justice, and to treat every person with dignity. Accordingly, our religious convictions require us to speak out against injustice whenever and wherever it occurs. We have done so before; we do so now; and we will continue to do so.

As spiritual leaders, we share the belief that one can only remove evil with good and can only remove hate with love. We, therefore, call upon all persons of goodwill to a greater degree of personal accountability and engagement. Let us be accountable to and for one another, and let us become more engaged in working together for the dignity and well-being of all of our neighbors. In short, let us come together as a caring community should!

Our Position

Anti-Semitic Graffiti

EquaSion Statement on the anti-Semitic graffiti incident in the Madisonville-Oakley area of Cincinnati

EquaSion, a civic organization informed by interfaith dialogue and which embraces 30 faith communities and 13 world religions, condemns in the strongest possible way this despicable act of religious bigotry perpetrated against our Jewish neighbors; and we stand in solidarity with them at this time.

Our community is better than this. We are a community of compassion and we value and safeguard all faith communities for their cultural, civic and spiritual contributions to our quality of life. Our Jewish community warrants our full support as they sadly experience, yet again, a gross act of antisemitism.

Our thoughts and prayers are with them.

Our Position

Gun Violence

Calling upon lawmakers to take action in response to upsurge in Gun Violence

TO: Federal, state and law elected officials in Southwest Ohio

We, the undersigned faith organizations, communities and individuals from across the Cincinnati region are strongly united in calling for immediate action to address gun violence in America. Collectively, we represent 30 faith traditions including 13 world religions, but across our differences, we share a belief in God and in the sanctity of life. And as people of faith, we feel a moral imperative to speak up in the wake of the most recent horrific shootings in El Paso and in our neighboring community of Dayton—where one individual, armed with a military grade weapon, killed nine people and injured twenty-seven others in just 30 seconds.

We are heartbroken, but we are no longer shocked. The shootings this past weekend are not anomalies or isolated tragedies. We have watched in horror as gun violence has invaded our churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples. Just this year, 131 people have died in 23 mass killings. By comparison, 140 people died in mass killings in all of 2018, including seventeen innocent children who were murdered in their school in Parkland, Florida. In too recent memory, mass killings have occurred in Colorado (2012), Orlando (2016), Las Vegas (2017) and just last year here in Cincinnati, and in each of these years, there are tens of thousands more gun-related deaths that do not make national headlines.

We recognize and respect the right of law-abiding Americans to own handguns and rifles for legitimate purposes, but we refuse to accept a dystopian future where schools, houses of worship, community centers, shopping malls, theaters, and other venues require armed security, and where children and adults are fearful of going out in public. Along with enhanced security measures and investment in mental health treatment, common-sense gun safety reform is an imperative. We urge you to do everything within your power to prioritize this issue and to enact policy changes that would keep guns out of the hands of those who are most likely to use them for criminal activity, such as red flag laws, universal background checks, restrictions on gun ownership for domestic violence offenders, regulation of “strawman” purchases, and a ban on high-capacity magazines. Polls show that a vast majority of Americans support these actions.

Our faith communities have a deep and abiding concern for public safety. Driven by our belief in the sanctity of life and the commandment against murder, we are committed to a comprehensive approach to confronting gun violence. No single solution will prevent all future tragedies, which is why we advocate for a balanced, multipronged approach. Reasonable gun safety measures must be a piece of that approach.

Our shared value of “compassion through action” instructs that prayer without action is just the recitation of words. The time for lawmakers to act is now.

As the residents of Dayton, Ohio said at their recent vigil, “DO SOMETHING!” Thank you.


Inayat K. Malik
Board Chair
Bridges of Faith Trialogue

Robert C. “Chip” Harrod
Executive Director

(Signed by more than 100 faith leaders.)

Our Position

Children at the US Border


Hon. Sherrod Brown, United States Senate Hon. Rob Portman, United States Senate Hon. Steve Chabot, U.S. House of Representatives Hon. Brad Wenstrup, U.S. House of Representatives Hon. Warren Davidson, U.S. House of Representatives Hon. Michael Turner, U.S. House of Representatives Hon. Steve Stivers, U.S. House of Representatives

We are an interfaith coalition in southwestern Ohio that started coming together in 2003. We are made up of members of 30 faith traditions including 13 world religions. We count as members: Christians of many denominations, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, Zoroastrians, Sikhs, Baha’is, Jains, Hindus, Unitarian Universalists, and Native Americans. We are black, brown, white, liberal, conservative, young and old. In short, we are as diverse as the United States and we share a belief in God. Our faiths have taught us all to do what God commands: to be loving, compassionate, fair, peace-loving, hospitable, charitable, trustworthy and more.

We are your constituents, and we vote.

Most of us have immigrant ancestors and with them we believe in the values engraved on the Statue of Liberty: Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door! Because of the atrocities during the Second World War, this sentiment of welcome to the “masses yearning to breathe free” became enshrined in international law as the human right to seek asylum.

Despite our different faith traditions, we all agree we cannot remain silent in the face of injustices, one of which is the unconscionable treatment of asylum-seekers by US government policy and actions. The most heinous abomination occurring now is the treatment of the children. Our hearts ache for these voiceless children who have been forcibly separated from their families and installed in appalling, inhumane, unsanitary, pestilential, unsafe warehouses that have been likened to cages, kennels, and prisons. Hundreds or more of these children have been adopted without their parents’ consent. Many are lost, many have been exploited and sexually abused. Some have even died in government custody. All suffer and many are damaged emotionally in ways we won’t see until some future time.

Having grown up believing in the freedom and justice the United States of America has represented to the rest of the world, we all are despondent about who we have become as a nation.

We call for every asylum-seeker to be provided due process under the law, nothing more, nothing less. If the Executive Branch is creating illegal policies, then the Legislative Branch is duty-bound to check these human abuses. If current US law is incapable of protecting these children who are exercising their legal right to seek asylum in the US under International Law, then you – our legislative representatives are the only ones who can rectify and remedy these circumstances.

Please work together now and do what is just and compassionate. Please respond to this human suffering by passing legislation that will alleviate these shameful conditions afflicting asylum-seeking children. These distressing happenings are a blot on our nation; they do not reflect the true, kindhearted spirit of the American people.

May God protect, strengthen and guide you to do what is right. Thank you.


Inayat K. Malik, M.D., Board Chair, Bridges of Faith Trialogue

Robert C. (Chip) Harrod, Director, Cincinnati Festival of Faiths

Our Position

Prayer on World Peace and Prayer Day

[Acknowledge the honor of being in the presence of Chief Arvol Looking Horse, the founder of World Peace and Prayer Day.]

Let us pray.

CREATOR, eternal source of love, we, your children of many religions, come to you this morning as one spiritual family.

AS we celebrate the summer solstice and light over darkness, we beseech you to hear our prayer when so many of your people are suffering from injustice and violence.

WE ask that terror and violence be overcome by the power of love and the desire for peace,
that prejudice and scapegoating give way to understanding and acceptance,
that injustice succumb to justice, and
that the craving to oppress be transformed into the desire for brotherhood and sisterhood.

WE stand in solidarity with indigenous peoples everywhere and all persons worldwide who want peace, justice and love to prevail on this sacred planet we share.

WE ask that you strengthen our resolve to be vigilant against the evils of hate, oppression and injustice, and grant us the will, and the courage, to confront them.

WE ask, further, that you embolden our political leaders, here and elsewhere, to be morally courageous and justice-serving, and give them the fortitude to protect all targeted communities and the vulnerable among your children.

WAKAN TANKA (Great Spirit), as persons of many faiths but with a single petition, we humbly ask on this “World Peace and Prayer Day” that you renew our hope and … grant us peace.


Bridges of Faith Trialogue/Cincinnati Festival of Faiths
World Peace and Prayer Day sponsored by the Greater Cincinnati Native American Coalition and the Miami Valley Council for Native Americans, Fort Ancient, Lebanon OH, June 21, 2019

Our Position

Massacre of Muslims in New Zealand

The news of the horrific massacre of dozens of innocent Muslim worshipers in their mosques in New Zealand was shocking and saddening. One more attack on a faith community, indeed, on all of humanity. One more act of violence motivated by religious bigotry. Still another heinous crime committed by an avowed white supremacist. And yet, this senseless massacre is unique, as they all are, in the profound pain and suffering on the lives affected.

Distance is no matter. We Americans, we Cincinnatians should all grieve with the victims’ families. We should stand in solidarity with the Christchurch Muslim community. Locally, we should extend our support, sympathies and concern to our Muslim friends and neighbors who continue to live in fear for the safety of their families. They are our brothers and sisters.

The Bridges of Faith Trialogue, a civic organization that works to foster interfaith inclusion and unity, and the organizer of the Cincinnati Festival of Faiths, holds to the belief that compassion and justice are central to all religions. Let us put our compassion into action by being alert to the present danger caused by the ideology of white supremacy, an increase our efforts to work together for a just and safe community for all of our neighbors.

Our Position

Mass shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh

Reflecting on the recent tragedy at a synagogue in Pittsburgh

If you are like me at this moment, you are feeling very frustrated, virtually helpless to prevent future tragedies such as what occurred to the innocent worshipers at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue. My sense-of-urgency meter is maxing out. I have been saying to myself, can’t I do more than just pray for peace? I ask myself, would all of the prayers for universal peace and justice being said all over the world prevent or discourage even one bigoted and deranged individual from his/her death-wish attack on one of our vulnerable populations?

I’m encouraged by the growing coalition of concerned people of good will who are coming together in response to the divisive political rhetoric of intolerance and scapegoating of recent years. Yet I am just as discouraged by the hard evidence of the dramatic rise in domestic terrorism and the spate of hate crimes of late, most of it directed at our African American, Jewish, and Muslim neighbors. These trends contribute to my feelings of despair and ineptitude. Again, this morning I asked myself, what can I–or even we as a community–do to overcome this state of what appears to be a human relations backlash.

Yet, as we have learned from having witnessed similar tragedies over the years, history tells us that once our immediate reactions of horror and grief have subsided, the sun re-emerges to shed light on humanity’s inherent goodness. That goodness is giving comfort and solidarity to victims and giving voice to the community’s overriding desire for inter-group harmony and justice. We are again reassured. Hope is restored.

As for the power of prayer: we need to acknowledge that praying or simply reflecting deeply in the manner of our choosing (whether in solitude or with others in community) has real value. It is impactful. It leads to social progress. For many, the act of praying reminds us that we are not alone in this endeavor to improve or “repair the world,” (or as our Jewish friends say,”tikkun olam”). Prayer inspires many believers to accept their responsibility to do their part in addressing the problems of our society. The opinion of many participants in the recent Cincinnati Festival of Faiths was that being compassionate means we are activists in service to and in defense of our neighbors of all types, including those of a different religious faith.

While prayer may not be the complete answer to solving our social problems, it provides the inspiration for many to take them on. The Bridges of Faith Trialogue, the sponsor of the Festival of Faiths, calls upon greater Cincinnatians and our faith community to come together in addressing the causes and prevention of religious bigotry and hate violence.

Robert C. “Chip” Harrod
Bridges of Faith Trialogue