Can Interfaith Collaboration Protect Religious Freedom For All?

Jan 13, 2020

 

On today's program: Pittsburgh’s Council on American-Islamic Relations has named a new leader; special education advocates say the state isn’t keeping up with the cost of services; FamilyLinks considers how to spend a $1 million grant to prevent homelessness; Mayor Peduto comments on Pittsburgh’s declining black population; and the Clairton community decides whether it wants to participate in a settlement with U.S. Steel. 

New local CAIR director wants to dispel misconceptions about Muslims
(oo:oo — 10:25) 

Christine Mohamed was recently named executive director of the Pittsburgh Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization in the nation.

She says educating Pittsburgh Muslims about their religious freedoms and civil liberties is one of the most important missions of CAIR, something she had to learn for herself when she converted to Islam. 

“I was nervous to tell my employer that I wanted to start wearing my headscarf or that I needed to pray. Or that Ramadan was coming up, if I could have a slightly different working schedule,” she says, “Those were well within my rights to ask for.” 

Mohamed, who is the first woman to hold the post locally, says continued collaboration with other faith groups and reaching out to teach non-Muslims about Islam remain her top priorities in the new role. 

Advocacy groups say PA underfunds special education
(10:27 — 14:46) 

The proportion of special education costs covered by the state of Pennsylvania has steadily declined over the last decade, according to analysis from the Education Law Center and Research For Action. The state used to cover one-third of costs and now pays for one-fourth of what districts spend on services for students with disabilities.

90.5 WESA’s Sarah Schneider reports that advocates and school district leaders say costs for special education supports and services are rising.

Tenant rights education and stopping evictions are key to preventing homelessness
(16:10 — 25:13) 

Allegheny County’s Department of Human Services has awarded East Liberty-based Familylinks a $1 million grant to fund initiatives to prevent homelessness in the region. Familylinks is a nonprofit that offers family-centered services for the homeless, seniors living at home, those dealing with addiction and those in need of mental health services. 

Chief operating officer Marianne DiMatteo and program manager Lisa Trunick join The Confluence’s Megan Harris to discuss what they hope to accomplish first. 

City’s black population decline isn’t new, Peduto says
(25:17 — 33:53) 

A recent Census Bureau survey estimates that when the new Census is taken later this year the city will likely remain stable at about 303,000, but the same data show a rapid loss of African Americans. According to Mayor Bill Peduto, development isn’t the only culprit in the shift. 

“What we’ve seen over these past 10 years is a lot of people leaving low-income neighborhoods in order to be able to raise their children in suburban areas because of schools,” he says, “because of taxes or because of crime. Part of it, yes, is gentrification, but it’s simple and wrong to paint with one brush.” 

Peduto points to programs like a housing trust fund and after school programs as attempts to encourage more residents to stay in the city. An estimated 7,000 residents have left so far. An official U.S. Census takes place later this year.

What can Clairton residents expect from the U.S. Steel settlement?
(33:58 — 37:49) 

Residents living near the Clairton Coke Works who sued U.S. Steel over emissions and odors have until January 20 to decide if they want to be part of a settlement reached with the company.

The proposed settlement would cost U.S. Steel $8.5 million, but most of that would go towards reducing emissions at Clairton Coke Works; only $2 million will be divided among residents.

The Allegheny Front’s Reid Frazier reports that if 20 residents opt out of the suit, U.S. Steel can withdraw from the agreement and a new one would be worked out. Residents can decide to stay in the lawsuit and collect an estimated $190 per household or to keep their rights to a future legal claim

90.5 WESA’s Caldwell Holden and Caroline Bourque contributed to this program.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.