In response to Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted’s announcement yesterday of early voting cutbacks, Reverend Dr. Tony Minor of Cleveland, a member of People For the American Way’s African American Ministers In Action, said:
“These changes blatantly discriminate against the African American community. Limiting early voting hours by cutting Sundays and weekday evenings is a transparent attempt to block some Ohioans from participating in their democracy.
“It’s no secret that many Ohioans can’t vote during work hours. Our elected officials should ensure that democracy works for everyone, not making cuts to early voting that disproportionately impact African Americans.”
People For the American Way's African American Ministers In Action represents 1,500 African American clergy working toward equality, justice and opportunity for all.
The following is a guest blog from Reverend Michael Couch, a member of People For the American Way’s African American Ministers In Action.
On Tuesday, while speaking at the Georgetown University Law Center, Attorney General Eric Holder called for a repeal of state voting laws that disenfranchise formerly incarcerated people. In a country where nearly six million citizens are unable to vote because of felony convictions, these changes could not come quickly enough.
State laws dictating voting rights for those who have served time in prison vary, from an automatic restoration of rights after sentence completion in some states to outright bans in others. Restrictions on this civil right in states like Kentucky, Florida, Iowa, and Virginia should no longer be subject to criteria such as the type of convictions, arbitrary time frames, petitions to clemency boards and/or the state governor.
I work daily with others around the country to make sure nonpartisan voting education and voter registration of women and men who have completed their sentences takes place. Laws that disenfranchise formerly incarcerated people take away the single most fundamental American right, and they do so disproportionately to people of color. As Attorney General Holder pointed out in his speech, restrictive laws prohibit a shocking one in thirteen African Americans adults from voting.
As an African American faith leader, I find this to be both morally unacceptable and counterproductive to the goal of fostering supportive, engaged communities. I know from experience if someone has committed a crime, served their time in prison, and is released, no good could come of permanently stripping them of their most basic right and responsibility. Moreover, what isn’t often addressed is how restrictive laws keep families of those adults from helping them transition back to being a responsible, contributing citizen of their community. It’s time to change the message sent to the nearly six million Americans who have lost their voice and civic responsibility in our democracy.
Attorney General Holder is right: These laws are “unwise…unjust, and… not in keeping with our democratic values.” It’s time for states to get rid of laws that suppress those who have served their time and prevent them from fully participating in our democratic system.
WASHINGTON – In response to today’s introduction of legislation to restore the Voting Rights Act, Minister Leslie Watson Malachi, Director of People For the American Way’s African American Ministers in Action, released the following statement:
“In its Shelby decision, the Supreme Court undermined some of the most important protections of the right to vote in our democracy. The Voting Rights Act (VRA) has long served as a shield to protect people of color and other vulnerable voters from the threat of disenfranchisement. We welcome Congress taking up the mantle to restore the Voting Rights Act and protect every American’s basic right to participate in every election.
“Since it was first passed, the VRA has boldly confronted a problem that has deep roots in our nation’s history and, sadly, our nation’s present – discrimination at the ballot box. We must have a working democracy that includes the voice of everyone. Making sure that all Americans are treated fairly at the polls, whether urban, suburban, or rural, is something many have fought, and even died for – now it’s up to us to honor that legacy so their struggles and deaths will not be in vain. We must restore strength to the VRA.”
The following is a guest post from Elder Jabari Paul, a member of People For the American Way’s African American Ministers in Action, following last week’s Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing on Stand Your Ground laws.
My perspective on Stand Your Ground laws (SYG) is shaped by my experience and calling as a young African American clergyman and as a native of Florida, the first state to pass this type of legislation. I believe that these laws raise important questions about the moral values of our country.
The debate around SYG comes during challenging times in America – times when the political landscape is starkly divided and mass slayings in public settings are much too frequent. These laws have been divisive policies since the first one passed in October 2005 in Florida. Public contentiousness surrounding SYG can be traced back to the choices of many politicians to ignore the will of the majority on SYG laws and to push the agendas of powerful and moneyed interest groups, like the National Rifle Association. SYG has been a wedge issue because politicians, particularly conservatives, have supported such laws to placate their base in spite of a lack of need for these laws.
Stand Your Ground has been championed by its supporters as a type of law that is necessary to prevent crime in urban areas and to protect citizens from the violence of “thugs.” These arguments have clear racial undertones. Words like “urban” and “thug” have been used since America’s post-Reconstruction days to speak in coded language about African Americans and other minorities. SYG tramples upon the civil rights of those perceived to be a threat. The tragedy of these laws is compounded when the person attacked is killed and only their attacker has an opportunity to tell what happened.
As a Christian, minister and an African American male under 35, my views on SYG are shaped by my culture and my religious beliefs. I believe that SYG perpetuates violence in a society that already knows violence too well. Jesus Christ taught the opposite of violence – love. In His renowned “Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus said, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” In these verses, Jesus is stressing that violence should be the last form of recourse in any situation. SYG, on the other hand, justifies and can even facilitate violence.
Our country deserves better than this. The United States of America is called, and no doubt is, the greatest nation in world. It’s time for our elected officials to drastically amend or repeal Stand Your Ground laws.
WASHINGTON – In response to the bill passed by House Republicans yesterday that cuts $39 billion over ten years from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), People For the American Way’s African American Ministers in Action (AAMIA) released the following statement:
The GOP’s vote to slash our nation’s food stamp program can only be described one way: heartless.
More than one in seven Americans rely on food stamps. Many of those receiving assistance through the program are our country’s most vulnerable members: children, seniors, people with disabilities, and families struggling to make ends meet. Playing politics with the lives of low-income men, women, and children is disgraceful. Especially at a time when so many families are struggling to recover from the recession, threatening basic access to food is the worst kind of partisan politics.
The members of AAMIA are extremely disappointed in and strongly condemn this callous vote.
People For the American Way's African American Ministers in Action represents an ecumenical alliance of 1,500 African-American clergy working toward equality, justice and opportunity for all.
Minister Leslie Watson Malachi, Director of People For the American Way's African American Ministers in Action (AAMIA), released the following statement in response to the House GOP's refusal to extend food stamp funding as part of the Farm Bill:
"This unacceptable vote puts children, seniors, the unemployed and struggling families at even greater risk in a country that already has nutritional challenges. Low-income and needy Americans should not have to suffer because of partisan politics, especially at a time when so many American households are already making enormous sacrifices. Republicans like to talk about 'class warfare.' But if there is class warfare going on in America, they are the ones waging it.
"I am deeply disturbed at the insensitivity behind today's vote. I join my fellow members of AAMIA in calling for an immediate and decisive legislative action to right this wrong."
People For the American Way's African American Ministers in Action represents an ecumenical alliance of 1,500 African-American clergy working toward equality, justice and opportunity for all.
People For the American Way’s African American Ministers in Action (AAMIA), a nationwide alliance of over 1,200 clergy, applauded the Senate passage of a bipartisan immigration policy yesterday.
Minister Leslie Watson Malachi, director of AAMIA, released the following statement.
“Our country must create real solutions for the millions of men, women and families caught up in an outdated and often unjust immigration system. Today’s bipartisan vote was a critical step in the right direction. This bill isn’t perfect, but it represents important progress towards a working, fair immigration system, and most importantly it creates a clear roadmap towards citizenship for those who are vulnerable.
“The Senate passage of The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 (S. 744) reflects the hard work and commitment of immigration rights advocates, including many in the faith community. People of faith from across the country, across religious and denominational traditions came together, stood up and fought for the rights of our new American friends, neighbors and families. We know our country is stronger when we respect and embrace the vibrant diversity that makes us who we are.
“Now it is time for the House to act and pass a strong, common sense bill to fix our immigration system. Today’s vote showed that elected officials sent to Washington can work together for the good of our country. For too long, the debate over immigration policy has been dominated by voices of fear and intolerance. We strongly encourage members of both parties to finally listen to the voices of the majority of Americans who recognize the need to create a common-sense, humanitarian, just immigration policy.”
People For the American Way’s African American Ministers In Action, an alliance of 1,200 clergy from across the country, slammed immigration reform amendments offered by Senators Marco Rubio and Orrin Hatch yesterday that would deny health care coverage and other basic protections to immigrants and their children for five years after legalization.
African American Ministers in Action members Rev. Dorothy Chaney of Miami, Rev. Reginald Gundy of Jacksonville, Elder Lee Harris of Jacksonville and Minister Jabari Paul of Tallahassee issued a joint statement:
“When it comes to extending the social safety net to our immigrant neighbors, the moral thing to do is also the prudent thing to do. Denying health care coverage and basic protections to vulnerable families is bad for children and it’s bad for society as a whole.
“We need strong comprehensive immigration reform because vulnerable families are falling through the cracks, unable to start fully productive lives and give back to the country they call home. Our social safety net doesn’t only catch those who fall, it provides a springboard for those who need a leg up. The Rubio-Hatch amendments would relegate immigrants to continued second-class status even after they earn a legal place in the country.
“An immigration reform bill that punishes children and creates a second class status for those who have earned a path to citizenship undermines the goals of comprehensive reform.”
PHILADELPHIA – Pennsylvania civil rights and faith leaders held a press conference today to urge Pennsylvania Republicans to drop their plan to change the way the state apportions its electoral votes. Rev. Dr. Robert P. Shine, pastor of Berachah Baptist Church in Philadelphia and co-chair of People For the American Way’s African American Ministers In Action, made the following statement:
“Last year, African Americans in Pennsylvania stood up to suppressive voting laws and turned out to vote in great numbers. Now, Republican legislators are trying to diminish the power of our votes and our voices by watering down Pennsylvania’s electoral influence. This plan is unfair and it’s short-sighted. Instead of trying to rig the rules of the game to benefit their candidates, the Republicans should be working to win votes with their policies and values.”
People For the American Way’s African American Ministers in Action represents a network of 1,500 African-American clergy working toward equality, justice and opportunity for all.
NEWPORT NEWS, Va. – On Saturday, Rev. Dr. Welborn Preston, Pastor of the Temple of Life Worship Center, New Life Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, in Newport News, will speak on behalf of People For the American Way’s African American Ministers in Action at a joint press conference calling for common-sense gun violence prevention measures. The press conference, featuring a number of community leaders, will take place at the Gaines Theater at Christopher Newport University on Saturday, March 23 at 9:30 a.m.
Rev. Preston released the following statement in advance of the event:
“Too many of our children – and especially African-American children – live in fear of gun violence. As community leaders, we have a moral obligation to make our communities safer and stronger for the next generation. That means fully funding schools, making sure our children have adequate nutrition and health care, and it also means ensuring that our streets are safe. And the plain truth is that we can’t keep our streets safe on our own. Our elected officials in Washington must act to ensure universal background checks for those purchasing firearms and to restrict assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. We must tell our representatives in Washington that every Virginia child has the right to grow up free from gun violence – and that they must work to make that right a reality.”
People For the American Way’s African American Ministers in Action represents African-American clergy working toward equality, justice and opportunity for all.
This piece is the fifth in a series of guest blog posts on “Why It’s Time to Dump DOMA.” In the weeks leading up to the Supreme Court arguments on the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act, we’re asking friends of PFAW to share why dumping DOMA matters to them. Be sure to check back soon for the latest post in the series.
Is it wrong for committed couples to share retirement and medical benefits? Is it wrong for Americans to expect to receive equal justice under the law?
No, but it is wrong for our government to dictate who we can love and who we cannot. It is wrong for our government to recognize some married couples and not others. But that is exactly what the Defense Of Marriage Act does.
Marriage equality doesn’t hurt anybody or take away anybody’s freedoms. But DOMA does both of those things. Supporters of DOMA sound dangerously like those who said we should outlaw interracial marriages in the previous century. It’s time for this country to say we are done with DOMA and dump it.
Reverend Charles Williams II
Member of People For the American Way’s African American Ministers In Action
Yesterday the Missouri House of Representatives gave first-round approval to a proposal requiring voters to present valid, government-issued photo identification in order to vote. As it did in a failed attempt in 2012, it includes both a constitutional amendment permitting a requirement for voter identification (which would be placed on the 2014 ballot) and legislation restricting the types of identification that can be shown at the polls. This change would have a disproportionate impact on African Americans, the elderly, low-income people, people with disabilities, and students, who are twice as likely to lack the required ID.
Reverend Isaac McCullough of St. Louis, MO, a member of People For the American Way’s African American Ministers in Action, issued the following statement:
“Faith leaders in my state worked hard in the months leading up to November to get our communities to the polls. It is disheartening to see that some of our Representatives yet again want to discourage, rather than encourage, people from voting. Suppressive voter ID laws fall especially hard on people who are already marginalized, threatening to keep many Missourians from the polls in future elections. That’s not what our democracy is supposed to be about. As faith leaders, we have fought hard to protect the right to vote – and we are not about to give up that fight anytime soon.”
WASHINGTON – People For the American Way’s African American Ministers in Action today praised the bipartisan immigration framework unveiled today in the Senate, which includes a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and their children.
“For too long, inadequate and inhumane immigration laws have hurt our immigrants and held all Americans back,” said Reverend Timothy F. McDonald, III, chairman of African American Ministers in Action. “Today’s proposal is an important step forward as we strive for an immigration system that helps our country thrive while treating all people with humanity and respect. Our brothers and sisters who come to this country for a better life – from Latin America, Africa, the Caribbean and around the world – are as deserving of the opportunity for full citizenship as any of the millions of men, women and children who have come to this country throughout our history. We join others in the faith and progressive communities in expressing our thankfulness to lawmakers of both parties who are keeping this basic principle in mind as they strengthen our immigration laws.”
This week the Equal Justice Task Force of People For the American Way’s African American Ministers In Action released a statement in support of the marriage equality ballot measures in Maryland, Maine, and Washington and opposing a discriminatory marriage amendment in Minnesota.
“At this moment in history, it is important that we stand on the side of faith, compassion, and equality instead of on the side of discrimination and oppression,” said Minister Leslie Watson Malachi, Director of African American Religious Affairs at People For the American Way. “We’ve seen again and again that when laws prevent gay and lesbian couples from getting the protections that only marriage can provide, all families are harmed and all communities suffer. As an African American and a woman I am frightened when one group attempts to limit or restrict the rights of others. We urge voters in Maryland, Maine, Minnesota and Washington to reject discrimination and vote to strengthen and affirm all families.”