After Deadly Florida Mass Shooting, Faith Groups Follow Students' Lead

February 24, 2018
Students hold signs, "Thoughts and Prayers Don't Save Lives, Gun Reform Will"

In the days following one of the deadliest mass shootings in American history, religious groups have mobilized to support a new swell of gun regulation activism. After a gunman killed 17 students, teachers, and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14, students from the school have received unprecedented press attention as they have engaged with politicians, National Rifle Association representatives, and corporations in an effort to make lasting changes to American gun culture and policy.

Organizing under the hashtag #NeverAgain, student activists have expressed their goal of making Douglas the last school shooting in America. The students have organized a “March For Our Lives,”—to take place in Washington, DC on March 24—which has garnered financial support from public figures like Oprah, George Clooney, and Steven Spielberg. Their long-term goals include making it anathema for corporations and politicians to take money from the NRA and encouraging politicians to draw up gun legislations that increase background check and age requirements and close gun show loopholes.

Religious organizations across the country have released statements of support for the student activists and their aims. The day after the shooting, the Hindu American Foundation published a statement from its executive director, Suhag Shukla.

“As Hindu Americans, we see the enacting and enforcing of legislation that keeps military-grade firearms out of the hands of the general public, as solidly rooted in Hindu dharma,” Shukla said. “The ancient holy text, the Mahabharata, reminds us that: ‘Dharma exists for the general welfare of all livings beings; hence, that by which the welfare of all living beings is sustained, that for sure is dharma.’”

The Reform Jewish Community similarly responded to the shooting with calls for political action.

“Enough is enough,” wrote Rabbi Johan Dov Pesner. “Until our elected officials stop issuing empty calls for thoughts and prayers and start protecting all Americans, we are left to wonder which community will be the next one added to this dreadful list.”

Muslim charity The South Florida Muslim Federation, Inc. has already exceeded its $15,000 fundraising goal for the victims of the shooting.

“Our beloved Prophet Muhammed reminded us on our duties towards our neighbors,” the fundraising page reads. The Federation, composed of a number of area Muslim organizations, also held a blood drive, interfaith prayer services, and “programs around mental health well being,” the group’s website reported.

The General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church tweeted a picture of a church sign that read, “How long O Lord until Congress acts to prevent gun violence.”

Some conservative Christian faith leaders, however, have responded that the ubiquity of shootings in the United States is tied to an increasingly Godless culture, rather than lax gun laws.

The day after the shooting, Fox News personality Todd Starnes wrote on his personal website, “They kicked God out of the public marketplace, banned Bibles and prayer in school. And the Devil smiled…. The traditional family has been redefined, broken homes raising broken kids. And the Devil smiled…. The politicians and pundits would have you believe this is not about God—it’s about politics and mental illness and gun control. And the Devil smiled.”

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students have already traveled to Tallahassee to urge legislators to consider reforming gun laws. Governor Rick Scott announced yesterday a plan to raise the minimum age to own a firearm from 18 to 21 in Florida.

--by Caroline Matas

Image Souce: Parkland Gun Protest. Photo by Laurie Shaull, Flickr Creative Commons.