When the South Asian and Sikh community planned an event to commend the Illinois House of Representatives on a resolution denouncing hate crimes, they expected to refer back to an August shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.
Instead, a moment of silence in the prayer portion of the ceremony Sunday came for those killed Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history.
With heavy hearts, religious leaders and elected officials joined the Sikh Religious Society in Palatine to discuss House Resolution 1193, which encourages tolerance and promotes education about diverse cultures and religions to end violence.
"It's an opportunity to bring the conversation back out into the public and make sure that it doesn't get hidden away," said State Rep. Michelle Mussman of Schaumburg. "We can't pretend this does not happen here. That's the bigger strength of this resolution."
State Rep. Daniel Biss of Skokie was the chief sponsor of the resolution, which the General Assembly formally adopted Nov. 27. He said the resolution came on the heels of the Wisconsin shooting as well as incidents targeting mosques in Morton Grove and Lombard.
The ceremony, which began with prayer and ended in a question-and-answer session with Biss, Mussman, Sen. Matt Murphy and Chicago Alderman Ameya Pawar, included calls to end hateful rhetoric in the political realm, introduce some restrictions to the constitutional right to bear arms, and expand mental health services to treat people capable of such violence.
Biss, who is Jewish, said there was a time when anti-Semitism was an accepted piece of the public dialogue -- until a broad coalition came together to declare it unacceptable.
"We have to make that universal and loud condemnation what is to be expected when any kind of divisive, intolerant or hateful speech is directed to any community," Biss said.
The South Asian American Policy and Research Institute helped develop the resolution, as well as a similar document passed by the Chicago City Council. Ami Gandhi, executive director of the institute, said there were inspiring examples of solidarity among the diverse group that came together to develop the measure.
"We ask that these anti-hate resolutions at the state and city level be just the first step to prevent future hate crimes and increase education about diverse religions and cultures," Gandhi said.