This past weekend, thousands descended on Charlottesville, Va. This time, however, it was students and parents gearing up for the University of Virginia's 198th first day of school.
Emotions are more mixed than usual; the excitement of new beginnings and reunions was offset by the recent presence of Neo-Nazis looking for trouble on campus.
"Safe space" has become a charged term, but at its core, a safe space is a student's place of comfort on campus, a home away from home. Right now at U.Va., those places must not feel very safe. White supremacists, under cover of darkness, stormed the U.Va. campus and surrounding area, shouting "Jews will not replace us."
How much more clear could they be? This is a movement aimed at suppressing the rights of Jews specifically and the multitude of other faith communities who oppose ethno-nationalism.
Amidst the evil and ugliness, there were examples of goodness. Clergy of many stripes drowned out racist and anti-Semitic slurs by singing "This Little Light of Mine." They held hands and prayed together. After Heather Heyer and others were attacked, clergy tended to the wounded until ambulances arrived. They were there on the front lines, encouraging non-violence and witnessing to the power of faith.
During times of tragedy, faith groups provide support for their communities. And millions of students find their safe space through faith. Faith-based clubs and community centers provide support for college students finding their way. They serve meals and hold services. They give back to their communities. They make overwhelming campuses feel smaller and more familiar.
Though it might have been easier to board up the doors and hide, the Brody Jewish Center, U.Va.'s chapter of Hillel (the largest Jewish campus organization in the world), is doing just the opposite. On its Facebook page, the group offered itself up as "a safe space for ... all students at U.Va. seeking refuge."
For all students.
Unfortunately, we probably haven't seen the last of the white supremacists on campus. A number of universities, including my alma mater, the University of Florida, are grappling with this problem. Everywhere this scourge goes, there must be robust denunciation and protection for targeted students.
Active faith-based campus groups such as the Brody Center are absolutely vital to provide a safe space for their fellow students. They also open dialogue for the difficult conversations that accompany issues such asracism and terror. Faith-based campus groups, regardless of religion, all share one value — love of neighbor. These groups must be protected for the sake of the entire campus community.
One of U.Va. founder Thomas Jefferson's proudest achievements was drafting the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. Jefferson worked with religious minorities to ensure that every Virginian, and every American, would be free to live out their faith.
Another Virginian, George Washington, also stood up for the religious freedom rights of all, reassuring the Jewish congregation at Newport, R.I., that "the Government of the United States gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance." These words are just as significant today as they were two centuries ago.
Many Americans think of religious freedom in a strictly legal sense. As long as the government is not actively suppressing religion (as happens far too often around the world), we feel religiously free. This is not necessarily so, and it is certainly not true for people whose religion is threatened by torch-bearing mobs. True religious freedom requires a culture that is safe for people of all faiths.
As the faith groups of U.Va. and Charlottesville tend their flocks, it is on all of us to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to live out their faith in safety. This means standing up and saying "you will not intimidate people from practicing their religion" to anyone who tries.
Katie Glenn (@miss_kGa) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. She is the policy counsel at the 1st Amendment Partnership.
If you would like to write an op-ed for the Washington Examiner, please read our guidelines on submissions here.