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Snow protest

Aaron Rosen, professor of religious studies at Rocky Mountain College, writes "We (heart) Islam" in the snow on the college's snow-covered lawn on Thursday, as students and community members gathered with him for what they called a public art action.

LARRY MAYER Gazette Staff

Rocky Mountain College student Joshua Lieuallen took a stand Thursday afternoon, using a canvas of glistening white snow.

Lieuallen, a senior psychology and sociology major, held a bottle of bio-friendly blue dye in one hand and meticulously wrote the words from Proverbs 31:8: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.”

He was part of a small group of students and community members who came together for a "public art action" they titled "Make Prejudice Melt Away.” It came out of a discussion Aaron Rosen, professor of religious studies, had with his students in which he challenged them to find biblical verses that relate to caring for strangers.

Lieuallen, the son of a Baptist pastor, approached the event as a protest against President Donald Trump’s executive order temporarily banning travel from seven Muslim-majority countries. Some Evangelicals, including Franklin Graham, have said the ban is not a biblical issue and the Bible has nothing to say about it, Lieuallen said.

The Rocky student disagrees, saying the Bible talks about helping people such as immigrants and refugees, especially those who are unsafe in their own countries.

“I think it’s very important for those of us who are safe and those of us who do have a voice to speak out for them,” Lieuallen said.

Sophomore Amanda Balter wrote “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” from Mark 12:31.

“I think it’s applicable to a lot of different situations, including the current atmosphere that we’re seeing here in America,” she said, bundled up against the frigid 12-degree day.

Balter, who is majoring in communications and philosophy of religious thought, said any kind of political or even artistic expression can be negative.

“I think it’s important that regardless of how you feel politically, that your message is derived from love and not hate,” she said.

Rosen encouraged the public to enter the conversation on social media with the hashtag #MeltingHate. He acknowledged that as temperatures begin to rise, the messages the students scrawled will melt.

“That’s OK because one of the points of being socially active is you have to keep getting messages out there and you have to keep rewriting them and making sure people hear,” he said.

For his part, Rosen, who is Jewish, wrote: “We (heart) Islam.” It’s important, he said, to see things from a wide spectrum of history.

“And when I think about the Jewish relationship with Islam through history, I think about the times of tremendous tolerance and cross-pollination and mutual interest,” Rosen said. “And for many periods of Jewish history, Jews experienced greater tolerance and greater cultural activity under Islamic hegemony than they did under Christianity.”

Rather than fear, he said, it’s important to focus on the shared images and histories that Islam and Judaism have together.

Billings artist Ellen Kuntz had been looking for a way to rally her support for refugees and immigrants when Rosen told her about the event.

Kuntz wrote “we are all immigrants” and “(heart) not hate.” She also drew a peace sign, which gave her some difficulty, since drawing in the snow isn’t easy.

She didn't let it stop her.

“I’m out here because I don’t agree with Trump’s ban on refugees and immigrants and I want to protest,” Kuntz said. “And the only way I really know how to do that is through art and expressing myself.”



General Assignment and Health Care Reporter

General assignment and healthcare reporter at The Billings Gazette.