APwa 07/20 0616 Human Rights COEUR d'ALENE, Idaho (AP) -- Human rights activists have made
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
"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rescinded its invitation for Jo Staples, a self-described witch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
"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
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
"I think with my religion and background I can help people
take affirmative action to stop them from being harassed," she
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.
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