Dan Nejfelt, Faith in Public Life’s Senior Editor and Training Coordinator, worked at Sojourners magazine as part of his graduate study of journalism at the University of Missouri before coming to FPL. Prior to that, he taught remedial reading and writing to 7th and 8th graders in rural Arkansas as a Teach For America corps member. Dan blogs about health care, the Religious Right and budget issues.
Faith leaders are deeply involved with the Medicaid expansion fight in Ohio, where key GOP legislators who support extending health coverage to 300,000 low-income Ohio families, children and seniors are facing political intimidation from right-wing groups. Americans For Prosperity, a Tea Party group financed by the Koch brothers, has launched attack ads against Rep. Barbara Sears and other Republican lawmakers across the state who are putting the health of struggling Ohioans before the political agenda of the Tea Party.
Our friends at Nuns on the Bus Ohio have mobilized Catholic Sisters statewide to confront these attacks. As a result of their diligence and conviction, more than 140 Sisters have released a hard-hitting statement calling on the Koch Brothers to search their souls about their opposition to Medicaid Expansion, saying in part
We know from our ministry to those living on the margins that a lack of health care is a constant burden that unnecessarily weighs on families. Medicaid expansion will provide immediate relief.
Sadly, wealthy activists are organizing in Ohio and across the country to deny health care coverage to pregnant women, the disabled and elderly in nursing homes by undermining Medicaid expansion. Americans for Prosperity, the advocacy group backed by the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, has made this a top priority. This is unconscionable. It is shameful that billionaires who can access the best medical care in the world oppose basic health care for the poor. We urge these corporate leaders to search their souls, consider the pain of so many families and stop this reckless campaign.
The economic and moral arguments for Medicaid expansion are strong enough to unite groups that normally find themselves on opposite sides of debates. For example, the Ohio Hospital Association and the labor union SEIU, as well as Ohio Right to Life Organization and NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, have joined forces in support of Republican Governor Kasich’s decision to expand Medicaid. Kasich himself cited his faith as an inspiration for his position.
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On the five-year anniversary of the Wall Street crisis that triggered the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression, millions of Americans remain trapped in poverty and not a single Wall Street leader has been prosecuted for their irresponsible behavior.
This week the Census Bureau released data showing that more than 46 million Americans were living in poverty in 2012 – the same as 2011. While our economy has shown some signs of improvement, it’s primarily the very wealthy who are reaping the rewards, and wage-earning Americans have been steadily losing ground over the past few decades.
And if not for key safety-net programs, millions more Americans struggling to find work in a weak economy would have fallen below the poverty line. The Census figures definitively show that Social Security, unemployment insurance, and SNAP lifted more than 40 million Americans out of poverty last year. (For a deep dive into the numbers, check out Robert Greenstein and Melissa Boteach’s analyses.)
SNAP is a critical lifeline for millions of seniors, children, disabled Americans, and the working poor, but it’s under immediate threat from conservatives in the House of Representatives. Today, the House will vote on a bill that not only cuts SNAP by almost $40 billion, but would also leave almost 4 million desperately poor Americans looking for both work and food.
This is very much a values debate. On the one hand, faith groups like the Circle of Protection have lined up in strong opposition to these immoral cuts. On the other, proponents of cutting SNAP have taken Scripture badly out of context to argue that taking nutrition supports away from poor people is consistent with Christian values. Just yesterday, when challenged by faith leaders, Congressman Stephen Fincher (R-TN) refused to retract the claim he made in May, when he cited two Bible verses to justify letting the poor go without food. Read more about that here.
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Rep. Steve King (R-IA), a Catholic, revealed the ignorance and prejudice behind his anti-immigrant policy stances (again) last week, saying about DREAMers, “For every one who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there that — they weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”
After being rebuked by Democrats and House Republican leaders alike, King defended himself by claiming that his views were rooted in his experience traveling along the US-Mexico border. On Monday, Catholic leaders who serve immigrant populations in border communities and have expertise in immigration policy pointed out that King’s views are as ill-informed as they are offensive.
Sister Rosemary Welsh, Executive Director of Casa de Misericordia in Laredo, TX, which provides shelter, legal assistance and other crucial services for immigrants, said
“These hateful remarks demean the immigrant families I work with every day and have no place in debates about the urgent need for smart and humane immigration reform. I invite Rep. King to spend time with us on the border, read the Gospels and reflect on his faith’s teachings about the dignity of immigrants. Now is the time for constructive solutions not offensive rhetoric.”
Father Sean Carroll of the Kino Border Initiative in Nogales, AZ, which provides humanitarian assistance and education in border communities, said
“Through my ministry on the U.S./Mexico border, I witness firsthand the courage and dignity of those who dream of a better life for their families. I urge Congressman King to remember Jesus’ words that ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me’ (Matthew 25:35), and to stop obstructing just and humane immigration reform.”
Father Rafael Garcia, S.J., of Immaculate Conception Church in Albuquerque, NM, said
As a former pastor of a border parish in El Paso for 13 years, I find Rep. King’s caricature narrow-minded at best. Hopefully he will apologize for his derisive comments — and better yet, have a change of heart.
Sister Simone Campbell, Executive Director of NETWORK, A Catholic Social Justice Lobby, which organized the Nuns on the Border tour earlier this summer that highlighted the work of Catholic Sisters in border cities from Texas to California, said
“Rep. King is simply out of touch with the reality of migrants’ experiences and chooses to ridicule women, children and families trapped in a broken immigration system instead of joining with business, labor and faith leaders working for practical and moral solutions. His reckless and irresponsible approach is not in keeping with the values of our nation or our shared Catholic faith.”
Rev. Thomas Greene, S.J, the Secretary for Social and International Ministries at the Jesuit Conference in Washington, DC, said
“At a time that when our nation needs elected officials to engage in reasoned, well-informed conversations about the urgency of immigration reform, Congressman King chose to inject inflammatory and ill-informed remarks into the debate. Such statements demean the millions of hard-working immigrants in the U.S. and are a mean-spirited attempt to derail long overdue comprehensive immigration reform.”
In addition, the Sioux City Journal reports that the Catholic bishop of Sioux City, Iowa, which is in King’s district, rebuked the Congressman Monday:
“I am disappointed by Rep. King’s remarks, which speak of migrants in a way that undermines their human dignity and the respect owed them as children of God,” Rev. R. Walker Nickless said in a statement. “While Catholics may disagree on the specific approach to reforming the immigration system, they should agree that the immigration debate should be conducted in a civil and humane manner.”
It will take more than words alone for House Republicans to distance themselves from King’s hateful rhetoric. If they want Americans to believe King doesn’t speak for them, they need to pass reform that includes a roadmap to citizenship for the 11 million aspiring Americans who remain trapped in the shadows.
This post has been updated since first publication.
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Religious leaders and activists made an important impact on yesterday’s Democratic primary in Massachusetts for Secretary of State John Kerry’s Senate seat.
There was one major difference between candidates Rep. Stephen Lynch and Rep. Ed Markey – Lynch initially favored construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, and Markey steadfastly opposed it.
In case you’re just joining us, the debate over the Keystone XL Pipeline has global consequences. If the pipeline is completed, vast Canadian reserves of dirty tar sands oil will hit the international market at a time when we need to be drastically reducing our use of fossil fuels in order to curb the most catastrophic effects of the climate change crisis. And that’s to say nothing of the inevitable toxic spills that will happen along the route from northern Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico.
Lynch’s early support for this disastrous project sparked a strong response from local and national faith leaders. The evangelical-led Good Steward Campaign joined forces with Catholics United, Sojourners, American Values Network, Interfaith Power and Light, 350.org and local nuns and activists to organize opposition, gather tens of thousands of petition signatures and publicly speak out against the pipeline. Lynch (who ultimately lost anyway) subsequently walked back his support for this environmentally catastrophic pipeline.
Keystone in particular, and climate in general, are flying somewhat under the radar right now but will take center stage sooner or later. The fact that faith leaders are gearing up and speaking out now bodes well as the debate goes forward.
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While political conventions and the daily twists and turns of the Presidential campaigns grab the headlines, faith leaders are working hard in communities nationwide to change the debate and advance the common good in substantive ways. The Nuns on the Bus Tour’s success calling media attention to the Ryan budget was a great example of this, and there are many others.
Last week members of Bend the Arc, an innovative new Jewish social justice group, kicked off their eight-state “If I Were a Rich Man” tour to confront Members of Congress from both parties who are personally wealthy and support tax breaks for the richest Americans that hamstring our ability to preserve an adequate safety net as we pay off the debt. This campaign not only highlights the faith community’s commitment to tax fairness as a moral issue, but also raises important questions about individual lawmakers’ biases in favor of the wealthy.
When President Obama made the long overdue decision this summer to defer prosecution of young undocumented immigrants who qualify for the DREAM Act, faith leaders rejoiced. But the pronouncement alone didn’t bring relief to those trapped by our broken system. In order to qualify for the chance to stay, they must complete a complex application process. Religious groups are stepping up to help young people navigate these difficult waters. Churches are hosting legal clinics for thousands who want to contribute to our nation’s future and are in violation of immigration law through no fault of their own, and faith-based immigration reform advocates are providing hands-on assistance. (On a side note, take a look at these inspiring images of thousands of people lining up to apply to stay in America.)
Grassroots faith leaders are also mobilizing to affect crucial state-level debates. In Missouri, a religious coalition is fighting for economic fairness and justice by working to pass ballot initiatives raising the minimum wage and capping the interest rates predatory payday lenders can charge. Next month Catholic sisters will conduct a statewide Nuns on the Bus tour to call attention to the Ryan budget’s devastating effects on communities across Missouri.
I’m proud of the impact the faith community is making this year. From shaping national media narratives on the economy and taxes to helping immigrants take advantage of important new opportunities to come out of the shadows, we’re demonstrating for all to see that religion is a powerful force for justice.
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