The White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships plans to announce today an effort to foster religious tolerance on college campuses by bringing together groups of all faiths to work on community-service projects.
The effort, called the President's Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge, asks college presidents to commit to advancing interfaith understanding on their campuses. The White House plans to create a Web site containing resources that colleges can use to begin the process of bringing groups together. And President Obama is expected to tout the effort in an online video to be posted on the site.
Eboo Patel, founder of the Interfaith Youth Core, a youth-led organization that promotes cooperation among all faiths, says his group advised the White House on the project. Mr. Patel says the effort has three main goals: to encourage college presidents and other higher-education leaders to make interfaith cooperation and tolerance a high priority on college campuses; to mobilize many faculty, students, and staff across higher education to act to create interfaith understanding; and to provide a step-by-step process to improve interfaith interactions.
Harris Pastides, president of the University of South Carolina at Columbia and an advocate of the White House project, said in an interview that it is important for college presidents to take an active role in creating programs that will "build stronger communities." He says that "prevention is better than dealing with an outbreak" of religious intolerance. "In a time of crisis, a strong community will prevent violence," he adds.
Mr. Pastides says he was drawn to the White House approach to the issue of interfaith understanding because it uses "service as a platform to create change," instead of relying on talking.
The emphasis on community service also drew Larry D. Shinn, president of Berea College and a Methodist minister. "We come to learn the most from those different from us when we work alongside them," he says. "Here we are working for interfaith understanding and not just pronouncing it."
"We don't have our minds swayed a great deal with talking," he adds.