Warren talks religion, violence at RCC forum

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren spoke on many common campaign themes during a recent forum at Roxbury Community College (RCC), but also ventured into less talked about issues, such as freedom of religion and violence in the city.

The forum, sponsored by the NAACP and several other organizations, was held Sept. 26. Warren received a very warm response from the crowd of about 200, which included City Councilor Tito Jackson and state Rep. Liz Malia. Her opponent, U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, was invited, but declined to attend.

“I’ve come close to despair about how many pieces are broken,” said Warren. “But there are two choices: either give up or do something about it.”

The Gazette asked the Brown campaign why the senator did not attend the forum.

Alleigh Marre, press secretary for the campaign, responded in an email, “Scott Brown has accepted more debates than any other incumbent Massachusetts senator in 16 years, including four televised debates, just as Elizabeth Warren originally requested.  It’s unfortunate that Professor Warren chose not to show up to the two radio debates that Scott Brown attended.”

At the forum, Warren was questioned by James Wartman, a brother at the Franciscan Friars of the Primitive Observation in Roxbury, about how she would protect the First Amendment right to freedom of religion.

Wartman said that the Obama administration is infringing on freedom of religion, seemingly referring to the Affordable Care Act, which some believe forces religious institutions to go against their tenets, such as providing health care coverage birth control.

“I am a person of faith,” Warren, a practicing Methodist, replied.

She spoke about being a former Sunday school teacher and that she has had the privilege to visit different churches and pray there. Warren said protecting religious freedom will be a top priority for her and she doesn’t want any infringement.

Bryant Gomez of Mattapan asked for Warren’s opinion on violence in the city. Warren said that “our young people are dying” in the city’s neighborhoods and that it is a “stain on all America that we don’t confront the violence head-on.”

Warren said if it was a virus instead of violence killing young people, numerous resources, such as doctors and research labs, would be devoted to finding a cure. She said violence has been treated as a problem for a particular community, but that it really is the responsibility of America as a whole.

The Senate hopeful also discussed the mortgage crisis, saying predatory lending companies targeted communities of color and that has led to families being turned upside-down and wealth being drained from these communities.

“It hit everyone hard, but it hit communities of color much harder,” said Warren.  “The consequence of that will be felt for generations.”

She said to turn around the economy there needs to be investment in public transportation, infrastructure and education. Warren said that Mayor Thomas Menino and Gov. Deval Patrick are doing “a great job,” but that they “need a partner in Washington.”

Mark Lawrence, a library director at RCC, asked Warren about her support of community colleges. She said there needs to be more investment in those institutions because “we can’t put it all on the students.” Warren said a lot can be done in two-year programs and they allow for opportunities that lead to middle-class lives.

When asked after the forum by the Gazette for her thoughts about the area, Warren replied, “I like Mission Hill.”

She added neighborhoods are the best parts of Boston because they are energetic, unique and special.

U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren speaks as moderator Prof. James Jennings of Tufts University looks on during the forum at Roxbury Community College. (Photo Courtesy Warren campaign)

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