APwa 07/20 0616 Human Rights COEUR d'ALENE, Idaho (AP) -- Human rights activists have made

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APwa 07/20 0616 Human Rights COEUR d'ALENE, Idaho (AP) -- Human rights activists have made progress over the last year in battling racism, but the struggle against hate groups is not over, participants at North Idaho's second annual Human Rights Celebration were told. The Rev. Bill Wassmuth was one of several speakers who addressed about 500 people at the gathering Saturday sponsored by the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations. Wassmuth, task force chairman, said Idaho has come a long way in the past year. He noted that in the past 12 months, the Northwest Coalition Against Malicious Harassment has been formed, the Legislature has passed laws to combat violent racists and Coeur d'Alene has received the Raoul Wallenberg Civic Award for its efforts to resist the white supremacist Church of Jesus Christ Christian (Aryan Nations). "That is a growing, learning process that none of us can be said to have completed," said Wassmuth, who is pastor of St. Pius X Catholic Church in Coeur d'Alene and president of the newly formed Northwest Coalition. The crowd was down by about half from last year's gathering, which organizers blamed on overcast weather and having to move the event to inside an auditorium at North Idaho Council. The speakers also included Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus, who praised the task force and the people of Coeur d'Alene for standing up to the Aryan Nations, which is based at nearby Hayden Lake. "The people of Idaho are united," Andrus said. "In every corner of this state they agree that we are not going to permit one tiny group which preaches the nonsense of intolerance to ruin our good name. We are not going to be polarized, but neither will we be intimidated." Two weeks ago, the task force triggered controversy when it rescinded its invitation for Jo Staples, a self-described witch from Coeur d'Alene, to sing British folk songs at the gathering. But on Saturday, Wassmuth apologized to Ms. Staples and the half-dozen witches, or Wiccans, who had come from Spokane to support her. "I make mistakes," he said. "The task force makes mistakes. We have things to learn about each other when we make mistakes, but that's why we're here." Although two of the women walked out during Wassmuth's address, Ms. Staples said she was ready to put the incident behind her. Ms. Staples said she had been invited to join a support group set up by the task force to help people who had been harassed or discriminated against because of their race, religion or ethnic background. "I think with my religion and background I can help people take affirmative action to stop them from being harassed," she said. Among the guests Saturday were state Attorney General Jim Jones and Rachel Haspel, president of the New York-based Raoul Wallenberg Committee of the United States. Last page !


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