African American Ministers Leadership Council

African American Ministers Leadership Council on SCOTUS Planned Parenthood Announcement: All Women Deserve Access to Health Care, Dignity, Autonomy

Today the Supreme Court declined to review a federal appeals court ruling blocking an Indiana law that would have stopped Planned Parenthood from receiving federal Medicaid funding for preventative health screenings.

Rev. Brendolyn Jenkins-Boseman of Aiken, South Carolina, chair of the African American Ministers Leadership Council, released the following statement:

"Today’s decision is a victory for Indiana women and should be a signal to conservative legislatures across the country that are trying to limit women’s access to health care. Our courts have stopped many of these measures, but with proposals to defund Planned Parenthood surfacing across the country, we must remain vigilant.

"Why do conservative politicians still think that playing politics is more important than women’s access to cancer screenings and other vital health services?  While these politicians push for wasteful and unpopular attacks on reproductive justice, many faith leaders and our allies remain committed to fighting for access to safe, affordable, and compassionate health care for all women.  All women deserve dignity and autonomy – over their own bodies and their own futures."


African American Ministers Leadership Council: Milestone in Black Vote Shows Power of Organizing, Backlash to Voter Suppression

WASHINGTON – People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council (AAMLC) applauded yesterday’s Census report confirming that African Americans turned out to vote at a higher rate than any other ethnic group for the first time last year.

Members of AAMLC, a nationwide network of African American clergy, worked through the nonpartisan “I Am a VESSEL and I Vote” program to train over 7,000 clergy and faith leaders in get-out-the-vote skills, including registering new voters and bringing voters to the polls.

“This milestone shows the power of strong, strategic organizing in the African American community,” said Minister Leslie Watson Malachi, director of AAMLC. “It also shows what happens when politicians threaten the rights of current and future African American voters. Across the country, we witnessed a variety of attempts by local, state and federal  officials to rig elections to make it harder for Black Americans to vote. In response, starting a year before election day, we raised awareness of suppression efforts from the statehouses to the courthouses, organized with other faith and civil rights communities, and turned out at the polls to proclaim victory for our hard-won rights.”

“This should be a lesson to elected officials who think they can keep African Americans from exercising our civic duty,” added Malachi. “We take the right to vote seriously, we know our power in this democracy, and we intend to use it. Every election counts and every African American votewill be counted. The movementto end oppression at the polls is here to stay.”

People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council represents an ecumenical alliance of 1,500 African-American clergy working toward equality, justice and opportunity for all.





African American Ministers Leadership Council Disappointed as McDonnell Signs Voter ID Bill

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Rev. Gregory King, Sr., pastor of Russell Temple CME Church in Alexandria and a spokesman for People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council, issued the following statement in response to Gov. Bob McDonnell’s signing of a restrictive voter ID law today:

“In last year’s election, Virginians who came out to exercise their right to vote faced some of the longest lines in the nation. This is a democracy problem that our elected officials should be working to solve.

“Instead, Gov. McDonnell and our legislature are working overtime to throw up even more barriers to the democratic process. This voter ID bill purports to combat the non-existent problem of voter fraud, but instead it creates a larger problem of voter suppression. This law is a politically-motivated attempt to disenfranchise already marginalized communities, and it places one more burden on voters who already had to go to extraordinary lengths to vote in last year’s election. We will fight to repeal it, and we will fight to make sure every eligible Virginian stands up and makes their voice heard at the ballot box.”

The African American Ministers Leadership Council, a program of People For the American Way Foundation, represents a nationwide network of clergy working toward equality, justice and opportunity for all.


PFAWF’s African American Ministers Leadership Council Submits Amicus Briefs in Marriage Equality Cases

Last week the Equal Justice Task Force of the African American Ministers Leadership Council, a program of People For the American Way Foundation, joined with a broad coalition of organizations in filing amicus briefs for the marriage equality cases being considered by the Supreme Court.  These cases – Hollingsworth v. Perry, which challenges California’s Proposition 8, and Windsor v. U.S., which challenges Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) – represent landmark opportunities for our nation to move toward making marriage equality a reality for all Americans. 

“As African American faith leaders, we feel it is our responsibility to question hatred and discrimination wherever it happens – and especially in our laws,” said Minister Leslie Watson Malachi, Director of the African American Ministers Leadership Council. “Laws singling out and preventing same-sex couples from getting married are blatantly discriminatory and they hurt our communities. These amicus briefs voice our support for equal rights and equal justice for all of God’s children.”

The amicus brief for the Hollingsworth case, a continuation of the 2010 brief PFAW Foundation submitted when the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reviewed the case, exposes the discriminatory nature of the supposedly “moral” rationales for Proposition 8:

This Court has refused for three-quarters of a century to uphold laws disfavoring minority groups based on religious or moral disapproval alone—with the one, now-discredited exception of Bowers v. Hardwick, 478 U.S. 186 (1986). And for good reason: Time and again throughout our nation’s history, laws that disadvantaged or degraded particular groups have been justified by resort to morality and religion. And time and again, our society has come to see those laws as repugnant, and the religious and moral disapproval justifying them as little more than a means to enshrine the status quo.

Likewise, the amicus brief for the Windsor case points out:

This Court has long implicitly acknowledged the connection between religious justifications and the Equal Protection guarantee. The Court’s decision overturning Virginia’s law forbidding marriage between persons of different races is illustrative. In Loving v. Virginia, the Court dismissed the Virginia trial judge’s proffered religious-based rationale, which cited God’s hand in creating different races, recognizing instead that “[t]here is patently no legitimate overriding purpose independent of invidious racial discrimination which justifies this classification.” 388 U.S. 1, 11 (1967). Ultimately, the Court recognized that the anti-miscegenation law served no secular purpose, and was based on nothing more than racial discrimination—even if disguised as a moral or religious belief.

As these briefs highlight, discrimination – even if cloaked in the language of religious or moral beliefs – is still discrimination.

PFAW Foundation

PFAWF: Voting Rights Act Still Key in Preventing Disenfranchisement

WASHINGTON – Today the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Shelby County v. Holder, a case challenging Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  People For the American Way Foundation released the following statement:

“The right to vote is one of the most fundamental rights we have as Americans,” said People For the American Way Foundation President Michael Keegan. “The Voting Rights Act, especially Section 5, has been a central part of safeguarding that right for nearly fifty years and continues to play a vital role in protecting Americans from disenfranchisement.  The 2012 election cycle provided far too many examples that threats to voting access – in the form of voter ID laws, restrictions on early voting, and inequitable distribution of resources leading to excessively long waiting times for certain communities to vote – are alive and well.  If we want a functioning democracy, everyone has to have access to the ballot box.

“The 15th Amendment of the Constitution is very clear on this issue: the right to vote cannot be denied on account of race, and Congress has the power to protect that right as it finds appropriate,” Keegan continued. “When, after a comprehensive analysis, Congress voted overwhelmingly to reauthorize Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act in 2006, it was simply doing its job. For right wing Justices on the Supreme Court to substitute their own political judgment would be a radical and unwarranted step and send a chilling message to millions of Americans who are seeing more and more burdens placed on their right to vote.”

“Voting discrimination is deeply rooted in our country’s history,” added Minister Leslie Watson Malachi, Director of the African American Ministers Leadership Council at People For the American Way Foundation. “It’s stunning to me that some say this law is no longer needed, when in the past election cycle we witnessed and fought attempts to make it harder for communities of color to vote all across the country. The right to vote remains fragile for many Americans, and the Voting Rights Act is an essential tool in protecting that right.”

For more information on the Voting Rights Act, please refer to the new PFAW Foundation report from Senior Fellow Jamie Raskin outlining the legal case for why the VRA is still necessary, or the new Huffington Post op-ed from Minister Leslie Watson Malachi describing the challenges that people of color still face at the ballot box nearly half a century after the VRA’s passage.


African-American Clergy Urge Corbett to Denounce Vote-Rigging Plan

PHILADELPHIA – Pennsylvania members of People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council are urging Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett to reject a proposal to change the way the state apportions its electoral votes.

“This partisan power-grab, if successful, will further disenfranchise African Americans in Pennsylvania,” said Reverend Dr. Clarence Pemberton, pastor of New Hope Baptist Church in Philadelphia. “Last year, a suppressive voter ID law threatened to keep thousands of African-American Pennsylvanians from the polls. Now, we’re facing another attempt to marginalize our voice in elections.  Parties and their candidates not able to win on their merits should work to appeal to voters, not to rig the system to discount our votes.”

The African American Ministers Leadership Council, a program of People For the American Way Foundation, is a network of African American clergy fighting for social justice across the United States.


Martin Luther King, Citizens United and Driving Voters to the Polls

On a weekend that features both the third anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, it is a timely moment to "take the temperature" of our democracy. Dr. King once said, "So long as I do not firmly and irrevocably possess the right to vote, I do not possess myself." What is the status of that right today? Or, to pose a broader question: what is the status of our democracy?

In the past year I worked with a network of 1,100 African American churches and 7,000 pastors to educate, motivate, and turn out our congregations and communities on Election Day. We facilitated hundreds of thousands of voter registrations, made more than a million contacts and even transported over 27,000 people to the polls. While we are proud of the work accomplished this year, it is clear to me -- and to many who facilitated get out the vote work -- that our elections aren't working equally well for everyone. More often than not, those for whom they are not working are people of color.

One of the reasons is that Americans -- and especially Americans of color -- are questioning whether our voices can be heard over the noise of massive corporate and special interest political spending in the wake of Citizens United. In the last election, more than 1.3 billion dollars of outside money flooded the airwaves, and voters understand that politicians are paying close attention.

Last year the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law conducted a national survey on American's perceptions of Super PAC spending and the implications for our political system. An overwhelming majority of respondents (77 percent) agreed that members of Congress are "more likely to act in the interest of a group that spent millions to elect them than to act in the public interest." Americans are seeing that excessive special interest spending is overwhelming the voices and priorities of individual voters -- as well they should. I believe that this is especially true for people of color, many of whom are starkly aware of the reality of the lack of power, influence and opportunities often available to us politically.

And as Colorlines' Brentin Mock pointed out, that's all before we even set out to vote. Faith leaders on the ground all across the country who I worked with witnessed the effects of voter suppression tactics such as voter ID laws and early voting restrictions. We all remember seeing photographs of voters standing in six hour long lines until 2:00 am on election night, waiting to cast their ballots even after the presidential election had been called. And a number of new suppressive laws may go into effect this year.

A democracy in which Americans do not have a fair opportunity to have their voices heard -- whether through discriminatory voter suppression tactics or through the overwhelming influence of big money on the political system -- is not a democracy working as it should. It is a democracy in need of healing.

That's why organizers around the country are speaking out this weekend to bring attention to the interrelated attacks on our democracy today. Under the banner of Money Out/Voters In, organizers are hosting "Day of Action" events in more than 76 cities in 33 states. Some of the same faith leaders who devoted their time and energy to GOTV efforts are leading teach-ins this weekend about the dual threats of voter suppression and unlimited corporate and special interest money in politics. As African American faith leaders who value the ideals of justice and fairness, we believe it is our responsibility to advocate for a system that puts electoral power in the hands of everyday Americans rather than corporations.

Perhaps Elder Lee Harris of Jacksonville, Florida -- one of the African American faith leaders organizing voting efforts this fall -- put it best: "We've come too far and fought too hard to let anybody take away our vote again."

This post was originally published at the Huffington Post.

PFAW Foundation

African American Ministers Leadership Council Urges Virginia Leaders to Act Quickly to Restore Voting Rights

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council praised Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell for his support of restoring voting rights to Virginians with non-violent criminal convictions in their pasts and urged him to work quickly with the Virginia legislature to enact the proposal.

“Virginia’s law disenfranchising people who have served their time for criminal convictions is nothing but Jim Crow by another name,” said Rev. Gregory King Sr. of Russell Temple CME Church in Alexandria, a member of the African American Ministers Leadership Council. “A criminal justice system that disproportionately targets African Americans continues to punish those who want to rebuild their lives as engaged, productive citizens, even after they have served their time. It is a disgrace to Virginia that we are one of only four states left in the country with such a backward, unjust law, and I am thrilled that Gov. McDonnell has finally expressed support for ending it. Our legislature and governor must now work together quickly to end this form of entrenched discrimination and help hundreds of thousands of Virginians regain their full rights as citizens.”

The African American Ministers Leadership Council, a program of People For the American Way Foundation, is a network of African American clergy fighting for social justice across the United States.


African American Ministers on VAWA: Stop Putting Women’s Lives in Danger

Washington, DC – Today members of People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council expressed deep concern about the House of Representatives’ failure to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). 

Rev. Brendolyn Jenkins-Boseman of Camden, South Carolina, chair of the African American Ministers Leadership Council, released the following statement:

“Violence against women is an issue that affects everyone in America, but it disproportionately impacts women of color. The 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey found that more than a third of Hispanic women and nearly 44% of black women have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetimes.

“For 18 years, the Violence Against Women Act has helped women across America avoid and combat domestic violence, making the country safer for every American.  Thanks to VAWA, the rate of intimate partner violence fell by 67% between 1993 and 2010.  The bottom line is that it’s an effective, life-saving law. 

“As faith leaders, we feel that it is important to speak out in support of those who are most vulnerable to violence and abuse.  The members of Congress who blocked VAWA aren’t just insulting women; they’re actively putting women’s lives in danger. Congress should act quickly in this new year to reauthorize this critically important program.” 



Looking Back at Voting Rights in 2012

The Senate Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing this morning on “The State of the Right to Vote After the 2012 Election.” 2011 and 2012 saw an influx of state laws and administrative decisions designed to make it harder for certain groups of people to vote, actions that we documented in our 2011 report “The Right to Vote Under Attack” and in a 2012 update.

People For the American Way Foundation’s leadership programs were active in combatting voter suppression efforts across the country by getting out the vote among targeted groups. PFAW Foundation’s Young People For program worked with campus leaders across the country to mobilize over 22,000 young voters. And PFAW Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council worked with African-American clergy in 22 states to facilitate 400,000 voter registrations and transport over 27,000 people to the polls.

Minister Leslie Watson Malachi, Director of African American Religious Affairs, submitted testimony [pdf] for today’s hearing about AAMLC’s voting rights work. She wrote:

Across the country, restrictions on voting led to confusion and discouragement among voters. But they also were a powerful motivator, especially for those of us who lived and fought through the Civil Rights Movement. As Elder Lee Harris of Mt. Olive Primitive Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida, put it, “We’ve come too far and fought too hard to let anybody take away our vote again.” Our task was to reach out to as many voters as we could to educate them on what they needed to vote and to make sure they got to the polls and stayed there.

Minister Malachi also emphasized the importance of the Voting Rights Act, which will be reviewed by the Supreme Court next year:

In the end, our efforts to educate and organize can only go so far. Equally important in the effort to maintain the right to vote has been the role of state and federal courts, where Americans can turn when powerful forces seek to deprive them of their right to vote. Federal courts play a particularly important role in protecting the guarantees set forth in the Voting Rights Act. From Ohio to Florida to Pennsylvania to South Carolina to Texas, the courts were critical in tamping down efforts to suppress the votes of African Americans and other targeted groups. As the Supreme Court prepares to review Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, this year offered us many powerful reminders that the preclearance provisions of the VRA are still relevant and still vitally necessary. In August, when a federal court struck down Texas’ new voter ID requirement, Rev. Dr. Simeon L. Queen of Prairie View, Texas, offered these words:

“It is inexcusable that nearly 50 years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, politicians are still trying to make it harder for African Americans in Texas to vote.  I wish the Voting Rights Act wasn’t still necessary, but thank the Lord it’s still there. African Americans in Texas have struggled throughout our history to exercise all of our rights as citizens, including the right to vote without unnecessary restrictions meant to discourage and disenfranchise. Today, thanks to the Voting Rights Act, a major threat to that effort has been defeated.”

You can read Minister Malachi’s full testimony here [pdf].


PFAW Foundation

Michigan Pastors Speak Out Against Anti-Labor Law

Michigan members of People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council spoke out today against so-called “Right to Work” legislation that was signed today by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder.

Rev. Frank Raines III of Farmington Hills, a member of the African American Ministers Leadership Council, said:

“Our state has a long and proud history of a strong middle class backed by a strong labor movement. This so-called ‘Right to Work’ legislation is nothing but a politically-motivated attempt to weaken the labor movement at the expense of working people. As faith leaders, we feel it is our duty to stand up for those who are the most vulnerable, those who work hard to care for their families, those who band together for fair wages and fair treatment. We’re disappointed that our legislature and governor have chosen to stand instead with big corporate interests out for political gain.”


Restrictions on Early Voting and Voter Registration Used for Partisan Gain

Florida members of the African American Ministers Leadership Council said they were "appalled but not surprised" by the report and the claims that the restrictions exclusively targeted minority voters.
PFAW Foundation

Florida Pastors ‘Appalled but not Surprised’ by Report that Voter Suppression Measures Intended to Target African Americans

Jacksonville, Florida – Florida members of People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council today said they were “appalled but not surprised” by a Palm Beach Post report this weekend that restrictions on Florida early voting and voter registration were explicitly intended for partisan gain. The Post interviewed current and former GOP officials who said the restrictions were targeted at African American voters, and specifically at turnout operations at black churches.

“There’s a reason African Americans stood in line for hours on Nov. 6,” said Elder Lee Harris, Pastor of Mt. Olive Primitive Baptist Church in Jacksonville. “We knew that these early voting and voter registration restrictions were meant to keep us away from the polls. But we’ve come too far and fought too hard to let anybody take away our vote again.”

The African American Ministers Leadership Council worked to bring African Americans throughout the country to the polls through the nonpartisan “I am a VESSEL and I Vote!” program.

“I am appalled but sadly not surprised by these officials’ admissions that their goal was purely to suppress the African American vote,” continued Elder Harris. “Even while cloaked in the dubious language of ‘voter fraud,’ the real reason for these measures was always clear. African Americans in Florida knew that, and we fought back – by voting.”


Ohio Ministers to Husted: Every Vote Must Be Counted

Cleveland, Ohio – Ohio members of People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council urged Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted to drop his attempt to disenfranchise Ohio voters who cast provisional ballots. Three days after the election, tens of thousands of provisional ballots remain uncounted. Secretary Husted attempted last week to change the rules for counting provisional ballots, making it more likely that ballots would be invalidated, and the rule change is currently being considered by a federal judge.

“Voting is over and most of the races have been called, but this election won’t be completed until every vote is counted,” said Rev. Tony Minor of Cleveland, Ohio Coordinator of the African American Ministers Leadership Council. “Every single person who shows up to vote on Election Day should be confident that their vote will be counted and their voice will be heard. Secretary Husted is trying to throw up last-minute barriers in an effort to stop some of these votes from counting. That’s undemocratic and unacceptable.”

Yesterday, Husted reportedly floated the idea of dividing Ohio’s electoral votes by congressional district in the future, making it possible that the winner of the popular vote in Ohio would not receive the majority of the state’s electoral votes.

“Secretary Husted’s job is to help Ohioans vote and to guarantee that our votes count,” added Rev. Minor. “Instead, he’s fighting in court to suppress this year’s votes, and planning how to make Ohioans’ votes count less four years from now. Sec. Husted should know that every person who turned out to vote in Ohio on Tuesday is invested in our political process, and we will continue to fight for our voting rights.”


PFAWF Supports Young People, Communities of Color in Getting Out the Vote This Election Day

Whether by reaching out to people of color, young people, women, or other key communities, People For the American Way Foundation has been on the ground all across the country these past few weeks getting out the vote.

The VESSELS project of the African American Ministers Leadership Council, which is committed to increasing civic participation in communities that have traditionally experienced disenfranchisement and discrimination, has organized GOTV events in more than thirty cities across the country. From Buffalo to Miami, Las Vegas to Baltimore, and many places in between, VESSELS have been organizing in their communities to get people to the polls. Ms. Ruby Bridges spoke at a rally in New Orleans, while Dr. Ralph Abernathy III took the stage in Cleveland. In other towns, volunteers have organized trips to the polls following Sunday worship services and GOTV concerts.

Youth organizers have also been working hard to turn out the vote. Despite the fact that nearly 85% of young people were not reached out to by either campaign, we know from our Young People For (YP4) Fellows that young people are busy organizing. They are centering their efforts around a campaign called ARRIVE WITH 5, because while every vote is powerful, they know that when they ARRIVE WITH 5 (or more!) friends to polls, the impact of the youth vote is magnified. At Pitzer College in California, YP4 Fellows are organizing an ARRIVE WITH 5 caravan to the polls – providing electric go-cart rides from their campus to the polling station. At Oberlin College in Ohio, student leaders are hosting voter information events, phone banks, and dorm storms. At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, they sang to get out the vote. Local bands and a cappella groups performed everything from jazz to techno while attendees got excited about making their voices heard on Election Day. And these are just a few of the events YP4 Fellows organized this year, collectively reaching thousands of students across the nation.

People For the American Way Foundation was founded more than three decades ago with a vision of a vibrantly diverse democratic society in which all Americans are encouraged to participate in our nation’s civic and political life. The hard work of PFAWF’s Fellows, VESSELS, and other volunteers this election cycle have helped bring that vision to life in a very real way.

PFAW Foundation

The Right to Vote Under Attack, 2012 Update

Here we detail, as of October 6, 2012, except where otherwise noted, the latest efforts across the country to suppress the vote, as well as some encouraging successes in expanding the franchise.

Ohio Ministers Celebrate Supreme Court’s Upholding of Early Voting Rights

Cleveland, Ohio – Ohio members of People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council praised a U.S. Supreme Court ruling today that ensures Ohio polls will remain open in the three days prior to November’s election. The state legislature eliminated early voting in the weekend before the election despite the fact that over 90,000 Ohioans had taken advantage of that period to vote in 2008. Ohio’s Secretary of State appealed a lower court ruling reinstating the early voting period to the Supreme Court.

“This is a great victory for voting rights, and for voters, in Ohio,” said Rev. Dr. Tony Minor of Cleveland, Ohio Coordinator of the African American Ministers Leadership Council. “Weekend voting in the days before the election was an unmitigated success in 2008, helping to increase turnout and reduce long lines. But some of our elected leaders saw this great success as a failure, and worked hard to make sure it wasn’t repeated. Their efforts to restrict turnout – especially among African Americans – weren’t just wrong, they were unconstitutional. Community and church leaders will take advantage of this restored early voting period to not only repeat, but expand the voter turnout success of 2008.”

The African American Ministers Leadership Council, a program of People For the American Way Foundation founded in 1997, works nationwide to help bring African Americans to the polls through the non-partisan “I Am A VESSEL and I Vote!” program.


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