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The Martin family, including Teddy, center, in front of parents Gretchen and Ted Martin, and twins Charlie (partly hidden) and Annie Martin, are members of the Second Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, but came to the unity rally held at Maryland Presbyterian Church.
The Martin family, including Teddy, center, in front of parents Gretchen and Ted Martin, and twins Charlie (partly hidden) and Annie Martin, are members of the Second Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, but came to the unity rally held at Maryland Presbyterian Church. (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

A week after a sign promoting support for LGBTQ people, immigrants and Muslims at the Maryland Presbyterian Church on Providence Road in Towson was vandalized, more than 200 people packed the house of worship during a rally that preached hope and action.

“We will not stay silent while hate rears its ugly head,” said Zainab Chaudry, director of Maryland outreach for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, who spoke to the Towson congregation. “If any single one of us is afraid, none of us are safe.”

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This is not the first time that the church has experienced such adversity.

It was previously vandalized, and in October 2018 the church received a threatening phone call objecting to its support of the LGBTQ community, according to the Rev. David Norse Thomas, who has led the church since October 2017. The incidents have only motivated the congregation to continue to support adversely affected communities, according to Norse Thomas.

After a sign declaring love for LGBTQ, immigrant and Muslim communities was vandalized with hate speech, Maryland Presbyterian Church Pastor David Norse Thomas says the church is doubling down on its mission of acceptance.

“Our response was to put up new signs,” he said defiantly.

During his speech, Norse Thomas encouraged attendees, who filled the church and a second room, to “stand up to the wolves.”

He later added: “Don’t you know that the light has already won?”

Sunday’s rally, “Hate Has No Home Here,” is the result of a two-sided sign that was vandalized to later express homophobic and anti-Islamic views.

The Baltimore County Police Department has said that the incident was being investigated as a destruction of property and bias incident.

When Chaudry learned of the most recent incident, she said to herself, “Not again.”

Chaudry spoke to the congregation about the current climate of the country — referring to anti-Islamic and anti-immigrant sentiments, racial justice issues within the black community and recent synagogue attacks. She laid some blame at the feet of President Donald Trump.

“This administration’s racist agenda has emboldened it,” she said.

Maryland law enforcement agencies received 398 reports of hate or bias last year, an increase of 35 percent from 2016 — and a pace of more than one report a day. The state’s experience echoes a national increase in reported hate crimes, reversing a long, gradual decline.

“We have been seeing a spike in hate crimes,” she said. “It’s so important to stay visible and vocal against the forces that try to divide us.”

Chaudry also praised the Maryland Presbyterian Church for supporting groups hurt by bias and hate.

“I’m proud to be here today,” she said. “I applaud the leadership of this church.”

County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. attended the rally with his 3-year-old daughter, Daria.

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“I think it is important to show clearly and loudly that hate has no place in Baltimore County,” he said. “This is reprehensible and has no place.”

During the rally, Norse Thomas challenged the county executive to meet with a coalition of community activists and people of faith in the next 30 days to discuss further actions. Olszewski immediately agreed to the meeting, which resulted in a round of applause.

Baltimore County police received four reports of bias-related incidents in the Towson area last week, three of which police say they believe are related. All four incidents occurred overnight between Jan. 25 and Jan. 26, police said Monday.

“I like the idea of being proactive to stamp out hate,” he later said.

Other attendees said they attended the rally to show their support of the church and its principles.

“I hope that the person or people that committed this hate crime will stop feeling threatened and fearful,” said Judith Thomas. “There’s nothing to be afraid of.

“If you are truly an American and you truly believe in the Constitution, then you will be willing to defend the people of all races, ethnicities and religions,” she added. “I feel so uplifted by today.”

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