Originally created 03/24/01

Religious complaint gets notice



Cynthia Parr wanted only two words from Augusta Mayor Bob Young: "I'm sorry."

When she didn't get them last month, she e-mailed her complaint to a dozen friends and launched a cyberspace firestorm that has generated a barrage of calls, e-mails and national media attention.

Mrs. Parr said she has been interviewed by USA Today, The New York Times and a Venice, Fla., radio call-in program.

One rabbi told her he had received 40 copies of her e-mail, said Mrs. Parr, who plans to attend a meeting on faith-based initiatives in Washington in April.

The flap began last month, during a forum where nearly 200 Augustans met with Stephen Goldsmith, a White House point man on faith-based initiatives.

President Bush established the cabinet-level Faith-Based and Community Initiatives in January. The idea is to allow faith groups to compete for federal funds, and if they receive them, they will remain free to express their faith to clients.

Although the idea is short on details, it has provoked opposition and support that crosses interfaith lines.

In her e-mail, Mrs. Parr reported she was the only member of the Augusta Jewish community - if not the only non-Christian - present.

It was too much of a coincidence for Mrs. Parr, the wife of Rabbi Jordan Parr of Congregation Children of Israel in Augusta.

"The mayor had invited clergy by going through the phone book under churches," said Mrs. Parr, who learned of the meeting through a story in The Augusta Chronicle.

And because the forum was on a Saturday - a day Jews set aside for worship - it guaranteed no rabbi could attend, she said.

Mayor Young, said no slight was intended toward Mrs. Parr or any other non-Christians.

Mr. Goldsmith, a former mayor of Indianapolis, is Jewish himself.

"He had no problem with" holding a meeting on a Saturday, said Mr. Young, who knows Mr. Goldsmith through the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Mr. Goldsmith came to Augusta in February as Mr. Young's guest for a fund-raiser. He agreed shortly before the visit to a town hall-type meeting on faith-based issues. The mayor's office issued a news release and employed a message service and a temporary worker to get the word out.

"We didn't do it to exclude any group. She showed up. A news release is one of the ways we address meetings," said Mark Gibbons, the mayor's administrative assistant.

Besides Mrs. Parr, representatives from the Augusta Arts Council and the Untied Way were there, according to Mr. Gibbons. There was no sign-in sheet.

Mrs. Parr said she departed the meeting "with a horrible feeling."

Her goal now is to be a watchdog in the community and keep the wall of separation between church and state high.

"There are plenty of nonprofit organizations that are doing a great job with our community charity projects. They should continue to get the federal money and leave the churches out of it," she e-mailed friends.

Reach Virginia Norton at (706) 823-3336.