African American Religious Affairs

Discrimination Masked as Religious Freedom? Not in My Name.

This op-ed by Rev. Timothy McDonald III, co-chair of People For the American Way's African American Ministers in Action, was originally published at The Huffington Post.

Last week, a bill disguised as a "religious liberty" measure that would give a green light to discrimination was passed by the Georgia Senate and will now go to the House.

As a Baptist pastor, I feel called to weigh in on a proposal that is supposedly designed to protect religious rights in my state. I fully support every person's constitutionally-protected right of the free exercise of religion. The right to pray to whatever God you believe in and freely practice your religion is a fundamental one, and one that must be protected.

But I do not support this bill, which is not a true effort to protect First Amendment rights. And the fact that supporters in the state Senate quickly and unexpectedly brought it up in committee when no Democrats were present makes me wonder if even proponents aren't so sure of its merit.

The proposed bill is modeled on a national religious freedom bill that passed in 1993, and supporters claim that it would shield people of all religions from government intrusion. In reality, this is a bill that threatens to allow businesses and individuals to simply flout the laws they don't like. It threatens to turn "religious liberty" law from a shield to guard individual liberties into a sword to bring harm to others.

For example, what happens if medical workers, citing religious beliefs, decide that they won't treat gay or transgender people? If business owners decide that they won't serve Muslims or interracial couples? If landlords decide they won't rent to single women? Beyond anti-discrimination protections, what happens if individuals or business owners claim they are exempt from any number of laws they disagree with? What happens, for example, if employers decide that paying their workers a minimum wage goes against their religious beliefs? Do we want to live in a society where your legal rights depend on the religious beliefs of others in the community?

Basic rights and equality should never yield to discrimination.

Other religious leaders here in Georgia aren't fooled, either. Working with a group of more than 160 clergy across the state, we have been asking our elected officials to abandon this misguided project, urging them not to pass any so-called "religious freedom" legislation that could lead to widespread discrimination. Handing people the "right" to use the mantle of religious liberty to harm others? Not in our name.

It's clear that rather than fixing a problem, as good public policy should, this bill would create problems, and often for those most vulnerable among us.

Even former state attorney general Michael Bowers, who once fought in favor of anti-gay "sodomy" laws, has called the bill "nothing but an excuse to discriminate," saying it is "ill-conceived, unnecessary, mean-spirited, and deserving of a swift death in the General Assembly."

I agree. My faith tells me that I should stand up for the marginalized. That I should speak out against proposals that could deny basic rights to others -- especially when it's being done in the name of religion.

PFAW

From Selma to Shelby County to Ferguson

This op-ed was originally published at The Huffington Post.

Fifty years ago in Alabama hundreds of peaceful marchers calling for voting rights were violently attacked by state police. Fifty years later Americans from all walks of life are expected to gather this weekend to mark the anniversary of what became known as Bloody Sunday and embrace the spirit for courage, sacrifice and justice of those women and men who marched, were beaten and no doubt underestimated the impact that their bruises would have on future generations.

The events of that day and the tense days and weeks that followed shocked our national consciousness and became a catalyst for passage of what some call the "crown jewel" of the civil rights movement, the 1965 Voting Rights Act. It's a law that held bipartisan support and helped protect countless Americans from discrimination at the ballot box for almost five decades.

Every year since that bloody day we have honored those 600-plus marchers who put their lives on the line in pursuit of basic democratic rights and racial justice. But this year, with a passion as never before, we must do more than just give lip service. This time marchers of today must clearly connect with the purpose in the pain that started in prayer on a Sunday morning and ended on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, with blood and tears in the afternoon. Why? Because as John Legend so eloquently put it last week, "Selma is now."

The shadow of Bloody Sunday is there, nearly two years after a core provision of the Voting Rights Act was gutted by the Supreme Court in the Shelby County case, as we practice patience for Congress to restore and strengthen what was taken away. When our leaders say that they honor those who refused to turn around, will they also commit to restoring the kinds of voting protections that they were marching for?

Today, 40 bills to restrict voting rights have been introduced in states across the country, from voter ID legislation to proposals reducing access to absentee ballots to bills that would make it more difficult for those with past criminal convictions to vote. When our leaders say they honor those who were beaten and bruised with billy clubs 50 years ago, will they also commit to voting against proposed laws that would make it harder for all people to have an equal voice in our democracy? Will they commit to confirming the highly qualified Loretta Lynch, a woman with a strong commitment to civil rights, to lead -- as the first female African American -- the Justice Department in effectively monitoring and enforcing the voting rights laws we already have and those yet to come?

Today, African Americans and Latinos, especially males, endure being routinely profiled, targeted, and attacked by the police. The report released this week from the Department of Justice about policing in Ferguson, Missouri, revealed that 93 percent of arrests were of African Americans, though they make up only 67 percent of the city's population. It showed and confirmed that African Americans in Ferguson were disproportionately likely to have force used against them by the police. When our leaders say they honor those who were hospitalized for peaceful protest 50 years ago, will they also commit to fighting against discrimination and violence at the hands of those meant to serve and protect our communities?

Selma is now, and the march continues. Selma needed protection for voting rights then, and Selma needs protection for voting rights now. Many civil rights leaders, past and present, and even future leaders, will be in Selma this weekend. But thousands of others who can't be there in person will not be excluded from being a part of a new march. Men and women will with great intent make sure every registered voter gets to the polls to vote in every election, will minister with an activist heart to their neighborhoods when violence upends daily life, will use social media as a tool to motivate participation in work aimed at ending all forms of discrimination in the name of religion, and will organize their communities in active opposition when yet another bill is introduced to undermine, restrict, or deny basic civil and human rights.

On the evening of that Sunday, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. informed the media that ministers would march and called for clergy from around the country to join them. He said, "The people of Selma will struggle on for the soul of America, but it is fitting that all Americans help to bear the burden. ... In this way all America will testify to the fact that the struggle in Selma is for the survival of democracy everywhere in our land."

I was not there then, but today as with every day, especially because of the Shelby Counties and the Fergusons, I give thanks and will not forget that struggle. On March 7, 1965, the world watched as nonviolent mothers, fathers, students, workers, faith leaders were beaten, tear gassed and hospitalized. On March 7, 2015, let the world watch as this next generation genuinely honors those who had the courage to take a stand that Bloody Sunday "for the survival of democracy." How? By registering, advocating, teaching, speaking up, marching and continuing their work in pursuit of voting rights, freedom, and justice as if our unseen bruises, our lives, our souls depend on it.

PFAW Foundation

Big Spending, Big Inequality

This op-ed was originally published at The Huffington Post.

Five years ago this week, the Supreme Court handed down its damaging decision in Citizens United v. FEC. The ruling, which allowed wealthy interests to buy unprecedented influence in elections, was and still is deeply unpopular. But the issue of money in politics remains, for some people, relegated to a category of "someone else's issue" -- the policy wonks in Washington, the researchers who spend long hours sifting through the latest campaign data. "It's their issue," we think.

In reality, the decisions like Citizens United that paved the way for the big-money election system we have today affect our lives every day, even when those connections can be hard to see.

Last month, Demos released a report laying bare some of those links, especially as they affect people of color. Their analysis highlighted how big money in politics undermines racial equality:

Elections funded primarily by wealthy, white donors mean that candidates as a whole are less likely to prioritize the needs of people of color; and that candidates of color are less likely to run for elected office, raise less money when they do, and are less likely to win.

The report point outs that in some ways, this is not new: As long as our country has been a country, people of color have been shortchanged by our democratic system. Our history is littered with violent retaliation and unrelenting roadblocks for many who tried to actively participate in our democracy. But those setting a political agenda that shortchanges people of color haven't always had unlimited billionaire and corporate political dollars backing them up.

What does this mean in real people's lives? It means more mass incarceration, for one, the harm of which African Americans disproportionately bear. Wealthy people are more likely than low-income people to support the construction of more prisons, and studies have found that the rich have greater influence on policy outcomes. Private prison companies, whose bottom lines depend on getting people behind bars, spend millions to influence policymakers, and groups like the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) have pushed for tougher sentencing laws. But it's often people of color who pay the price, when family members and friends suddenly disappear from their communities.

It also means a stagnant minimum wage, which women of color are disproportionately likely to be earning. While the public strongly supports raising the minimum wage, groups like the Chamber of Commerce, which opposes raising it, can afford to pour millions into elections and hold serious sway with lawmakers. Though not immediately apparent, there is a direct connection to the amount of money a low-income woman takes home in her paycheck and the Supreme Court decisions governing our big-money political system.

And the list could go on and on. At the end of the day, money in politics cannot be "someone else's issue." Because it distorts who is heard by our elected officials, it affects what's in your paycheck, who ends up in prison, what kind of health care we have access to, what kind of environment we leave for our children, and much more.

That's why one piece of the larger fight for racial justice must be reforming the rules governing money in elections. It's fitting that we mark the fifth anniversary of Citizens United on the same week we remember the life of Martin Luther King Jr. In 1963, in his iconic "I Have a Dream" speech, King said, "Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy."

In the wake of Citizens United, the struggle to make those promises real has become even more urgent.

PFAW

African American Ministers Call Anti-Immigrant Vote “Offense to Core Values”

In response to the vote by the House GOP to prevent President Obama from using his executive authority to address our broken immigration system, Minister Leslie Watson Malachi, Director of People For the American Way’s African American Ministers In Action, issued the following statement:

“Today’s vote is another deeply disturbing attack on immigrant families and an offense to our core values. Just as our history reminds us that America is a nation of immigrants, our faith reminds us that we’re called to welcome the stranger among us. This attempt to marginalize and harm immigrant families isn’t just contrary to our beliefs as Christians—it’s contrary to our belief as Americans that this country is, and must always be, a nation where people of all backgrounds can build a better life for future generations. We commend President Obama for standing firmly against this attempt to harm hardworking immigrants and their families who have made themselves a part of our shared community.”

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Ohio Ministers Speak Out Against SCOTUS Order to Block Early Voting

In response to the Supreme Court’s 5-4 vote today to block early voting in Ohio less than 24 hours before it was set to begin, Ohio members of People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council (AAMLC) released the following statement:

“Today the Supreme Court demonstrated, yet again, that it is not interested in protecting the right of everyday Americans to participate in our democracy. From making it easier for the super-rich to buy elections to coming down on the side of those who want to block access to the polls, the conservative majority of the Roberts Court is making it crystal clear that they will not stand up for a democracy of, by, and for the people.

“The right to vote is the most fundamental right, and responsibility, that we have in a democracy. As a country, we should be working to expand access to voting, not making it harder to cast a ballot. We’re deeply disappointed that the Supreme Court has failed to protect voting rights in our state today.”

On September 17, 85 AAMLC members joined with fellow Ohio clergy in meetings with the offices of state House and Senate members to share their thoughts on the importance of protecting, and removing barriers to, the right to vote.

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.

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African American Ministers in Action Applauds Introduction of VRA Legislation

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.”

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African American Ministers Leadership Council Statement on First Day of Affordable Care Act Enrollment

On the first day of open enrollment for the Affordable Care Act, People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council (AAMLC) released the following statement:

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) will make access to health care a reality for many of our country’s most vulnerable women, men, and children. As African American faith leaders, we applaud the expansion of health care accessibility and believe that every person is entitled to compassionate, affordable, and culturally competent health care.

6.8 million African Americans who were uninsured yesterday have new opportunities for coverage today. These opportunities will make a real impact in the lives of real women, children and men.

This week, our clergy began a series of “I Care” Sundays that will focus on comfort and confidence in enrollment through March 31, 2014. Our ministerial alliance across the country will continue its outreach – to be spearheaded primarily by women faith leaders – in rural and urban churches to support health care from the pulpit to the pews. Through participating in the ACA, we are advocating a healthy future with human dignity for all. 

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.

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African American Ministers in Action Condemn House GOP’s “Heartless” Vote to Slash Food Stamps

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.

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African American Ministers Leadership Council: Anti-Immigrant March Doesn’t Reflect Our American Values

WASHINGTON – The African American Ministers Leadership Council, a program of People For the American Way Foundation, responded to today’s anti-immigrant rally, the “DC March for Jobs,” organized by the Black American Leadership Alliance.

“For decades, anti-immigrant groups have tried to pit Black Americans against our Latino brothers, sisters, friends and neighbors,” said Minister Leslie Watson Malachi, Director of the African American Ministers Leadership Council. “It hasn’t worked yet, and it isn’t working now. We know that vibrant diversity is our country’s strength. But too many of those behind this march see it as a weakness.”

As affiliate People For the American Way’s Right Wing Watch has reported, the Black American Leadership Alliance is a new front group for the network of anti-immigrant groups linked to white nationalist John Tanton. Far from being the grassroots group it purports to be, it is instead headed by a handful of longtime anti-immigrant activist and fringe right-wing pundits.

Several members of Congress are scheduled to speak at the rally, including Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen. Jeff Sessions and Rep. Steve King.

“Far from showing a diverse anti-immigrant coalition, this rally just proves that the anti-immigrant movement hasn’t changed one bit,” added Minister Watson. “Strong majorities of Americans, including African Americans, support the creation of a realistic, common-sense immigration policy. And as faith leaders, we will continue to advocate for public policy that lifts up the downtrodden and gives a voice to the marginalized.”

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.


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African American Ministers in Action: House Food Stamps Vote 'Insensitive' and 'Unacceptable'

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.

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African American Ministers in Action Urges House to Pass Common-Sense Immigration Policy

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.”


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African American Ministers In Action: Rubio-Hatch Amendments Would Weaken Immigration Reform, Hurt Children

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.”


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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."

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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.

 

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African American Ministers In Action Urges Pennsylvania Republicans to Drop Electoral Vote Rigging Plan

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.
 

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Stay in Hope: Remarks by Minister Leslie Watson Malachi on Marriage Equality

Minister Leslie Watson Malachi, director of African American Religious Affairs at People For the American Way, delivered the following remarks to those supporting marriage equality in front of the Supreme Court today.

I greet you as one who is humbled to stand before you on this day that will be like none other and say celebrate, be glad in it, and keep standing for and with Hope!

Why Hope? As the Director of African American Religious Affairs of People For the American Way, Hope tells us DOMA will not stand but like Goliath, will fall.

Hope says same gender couples, in committed relationships will be recognized and receive those 1100 plus benefits now denied by the federal government. Hope defends what is right, Hope unites people and families, Hope stands with us and for us, and Hope is the American Way!

Why Hope? As an organizer and ally since 1996, Hope kept us waiting for this historic day. Hope gave us a process and a lesson to never take lightly judicial nominations, to make sure voter registration and mobilization is a core value, to rejoice in victories in 2012 from the proclamation from the highest officer holder in this country – President Obama - to 4 states making it 9 states total passing pro-Marriage Equality laws, and that our work in the states is not done.  Hope hasn’t just strengthened those who have always believed in marriage equality. It’s brought others to reconsider their opposition and join us on the side of justice for all. Hope is why we have so many other new and welcomed allies for equality.

Why Hope? As a Christian, during this Holy Week, from our sacred text “hope that is seen is not hope”, so you have had and must hold on with unwavering confidence that help has arrived, is sitting in between the walls of the highest court of this nation, and speaking into existence freedom that will no longer be denied.

And finally, why Hope? As an African American woman, on behalf of the Equal Justice Task Force of African American Ministers In Action, Hope says the enemy is a liar when they say African Americans and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people are two separate - even hostile – communities, for “no weapon shall be forged against us” and no wedge can be driven between those who know oppression, discrimination, denial of basic civil and human rights.  Hope connects the civil rights movement to the gay rights movement, the yesterday to today, the hopeful to the hopeless.

So Beloved, stay in Hope! Stay in Hope I say for if the Justices are about the business of justice, then they will speak against hate, division, intolerance, and barriers to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” and strike down the Defense of Marriage Act.

Stay in Hope for my sacred text tells us what “man meant for harm, God intends for good”.

In this pivotal moment in our country's history, we must stand on the side of compassion and equality rather than on the side of oppression and discrimination. And that’s why we’re all out here on the steps of the Supreme Court today.

I leave you with these words, stay in Hope because it was the late Senator Ted Kennedy who said, and prayerfully he won’t mind me playing with it a little bit, “ For all those whose dreams have been our concern (to defeat all forms of discrimination), the work goes on (we are not going to stop trying until gay and lesbian Americans across the country have full legal equality), the cause endures (freedom to be, freedom to love, just freedom), the hope still lives ( I say again hope still lives), and the dream (for all persons to marry the person they love) shall never die.”

Be encouraged! Have faith. Expand love. Know peace. And may Hope, which is never silent, always be with you!

 

 

PFAW

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.
 

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African American Ministers in Action Urge Common-Sense Measures to Combat Gun Violence

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.

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African American Ministers Leadership Council Responds to Scalia’s ‘Racial Entitlement’ Comment

In Supreme Court oral arguments on Shelby County vs. Holder today, Justice Antonin Scalia reportedly stated that the renewal of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act represents “the perpetuation of racial entitlement.”

Minister Leslie Watson Malachi, Director of People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council, responded:

“Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act doesn’t represent the ‘perpetuation of racial entitlement,’ as Justice Scalia states. Rather, it is one of the most important tools we have for confronting the entitlement of those who believe some people’s votes and voices should matter more than others. Section 5 boldly confronted a reality of American life that still exists today: the routine devaluation of the lives and voices of people of color. Justice Scalia’s statement carries disturbing echoes of the ‘perpetual entitlement’ that has kept bigotry, discrimination, homophobia, disempowerment, sexism, and classism alive in America. I hope that Scalia’s fellow justices will approach this issue more thoughtfully, and with a greater awareness of the reality in their country.”

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We Can’t Afford to Lose the Voting Rights Act

Tomorrow morning, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a challenge to a pivotal section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The part of the VRA that’s under attack is Section 5, which requires the Justice Department or a federal court to approve changes to voting laws in states and counties that have a history of racially discriminatory voting practices before those laws can go into effect. The lead-up to last year’s elections, in which state legislatures passed a slew of discriminatory voter suppression measures, showed just how much Section 5 is still needed.

Today, People For the American Way Foundation released a new report from Senior Fellow Jamie Raskin detailing the history and continued need for Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and what progressives can do to ensure equal voting rights in the years to come. Raskin writes:

A decision against Section 5 preclearance or the Section 4(b) coverage formula would likely spell the political demise of the Voting Rights Act, even if it is theoretically salvageable by an updated coverage formula or an even more relaxed preclearance procedure.  Our paralyzed, deadlocked Congress will never come to terms on how to revive and renovate it if the Court knocks it down or puts it into a tiny little straitjacket.

Win, lose, or draw, progressives should reckon with the prospect that the days of this landmark statute might be numbered.  This means that we need to take up an ambitious democracy and voting rights agenda of our own for the new century, this time with explicitly universalist aims and general terms that deal with the complex suppression of democracy today.  The voting rights struggles of the new century relate not just to old-fashioned racial trickery in Alabama and Texas but new-age vote suppression in Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio; they involve not just traditional vote dilution in the South but the increasingly untenable disenfranchisement of 600,000 Americans in Washington, D.C and 3.6 million Americans in Puerto Rico.

Also today, PFAW Foundation’s Director of African American Religious Affairs, Minister Leslie Watson Malachi, wrote in the Huffington Post about the challenges that people of color still face at the ballot box, nearly half a century after the passage of the Voting Rights Act:

In 2011 and 2012 I organized faith leaders from 22 states in combating voter suppression efforts and turning out the vote among specific communities. This election cycle offered many powerful reminders why Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is still needed. Texas, for example, passed a discriminatory voter ID law that would have required voters to present government-issued photo ID at the polls, which would have especially burdened poor people and people of color. But because Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act still stands, this law was defeated and the right to vote was protected. Reverend Simeon L. Queen of Houston, Texas, a comrade in the struggle, reflected: "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."

Since 1980 I have been fortunate to work with men and women, some who started before I was born, to fight for laws protecting the right to vote. Despite the commitment of those who devoted their lives to voter protections, the right to vote remains fragile for many Americans. From voter ID laws to restrictions on early voting, as a country we cannot allow anyone to say "this isn't a problem anymore" to communities who are experiencing, as others witness, those problems at the polls each election. 

PFAW Foundation
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