Faith group to honor war resister Watada
The Army officer who refused to go to Iraq cannot travel to Oahu to accept the award
The Interfaith Alliance of Hawaii will honor Army Lt. Ehren Watada for taking a stand against the war in Iraq by refusing to serve there with his Stryker combat unit.
The organization chose the Honolulu-born artillery officer for its Flame of Hope Award to be presented Oct. 21 at its 2006 Community Awards Dinner.
Watada, 28, is the first Army officer who has been recommended to face court-martial for refusing to serve in Iraq. He is stationed at Fort Lewis, Wash., with the 2nd Infantry Division. He refused to join his 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Regiment, when it left for Iraq June 23.
Watada said that he refused to participate because he believes the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq violates U.S. Constitution limits on the power of the president as well as the charters of the United Nations and Nuremberg Tribunal.
The interfaith group "recognizes the individual's right to follow his conscience and to disagree with his government," said Interfaith Alliance President John Heidel. "The award recognizes Hawaii residents whose actions, especially in making a stand for peace, ignite the flame of hope."
Army officials will not permit Watada to travel to Hawaii to receive the award, said his attorney Eric Seitz, who will accept it for him.
No date has been set yet for a court-martial on charges that he missed a movement of his unit, contempt toward officials and conduct unbecoming an officer. If convicted, he could be imprisoned for seven years and dishonorably discharged.
Heidel, a United Church of Christ minister, acknowledged that the award from the faith-based group could be seen as political.
"It's hard not to be political when taking on social justice issues. We do this while honoring the separation of church and state," Heidel said.
The Interfaith Alliance of Hawaii has about 150 members from about 20 religious affiliations including Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Bahai, Unitarian and several Christian denominations. It is a branch of the national Interfaith Alliance, which was formed in 1994 to provide an alternative voice from the religion world to offset the growing political influence of the conservative Christian Coalition.
The Oct. 21 community awards banquet at Honpa Hongwanji Hawaii Betsuin, 1727 Pali Highway, is open to the public. Tickets are $10. Reservations can be made by calling Heidel at 261-4585 or writing to TIAHopentable@gmail.com.
Utu Langi, manager of the state's Next Step homeless shelter in Kakaako, will speak on "The Truth About Homelessness."
Other awards will be presented to the H-5 homeless outreach project at First United Church of Christ, the Kokua Council, Life of the Land and the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii.
The Flame of Hope Award was previously given to Grace Furukawa, an advocate for clean elections and other social justice issues, and to the Americans for Separation of State and Church group.