Jennifer is the founding CEO of Faith in Public Life. Before leading FPL Jennifer spent ten years working in the field of international human rights representing the Presbyterian Church (USA) at the United Nations and is an ordained minister.
Church bells rang out across the country yesterday as thousands of Americans gathered in Washington to mark the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. Speakers at the Lincoln Memorial pointed out both the tremendous progress made and the steep road ahead on our journey to fulfilling the ideals that were so resoundingly expressed half a century ago.
At the March and in congregations hosting commemorative services, leaders addressed issues such as jobs, living wages, economic inequality, education, mass incarceration, healthcare, immigration reform, and discrimination against minority voters. That sounds like quite a laundry list of issues, but they are systemically linked and woven together by a thread of common values – dignity, equality and justice.
As the marchers return to their home communities, the fight for these values carries on. Today fast food workers in 60 cities mounted the largest strike ever for living wages in their industry. Included were places where key events of the civil rights movement took place, such as Raleigh, Chicago and Memphis.
Led by the faith community, people across the country are marching, holding vigils and pressing lawmakers every single day to pass immigration reform that protects immigrant workers and families, builds a roadmap to citizenship and ends the gross miscarriages of justice caused by our broken system. The list of struggles for justice animated by Dr. King’s dream is long.
When President Obama said yesterday that “the arc of the moral universe may bend toward justice, but it doesn’t bend on its own,” I nodded along in agreement, but I also felt a flutter of fear in my chest because none of us alone is equal to this great task. Our success, which is far from guaranteed, depends on our ability to inspire, organize and mobilize. Only then can we make the cost of perpetuating injustice unbearable.
When, God willing, my son goes to the Lincoln Memorial 50 years from now to mark the century anniversary of the March on Washington, I want him to be standing shoulder to shoulder with people of all races in a nation where full justice and equality are no longer such a distant dream. Whether that happens is far outside my control. But I do have a small say over whether he knows that his parents’ generation did all they could.
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Last Saturday, my friend Troy Jackson of Ohio Prophetic Voices and fellow Ohio clergy led a 500-person march to House Speaker John Boehner’s office in Springfield, Ohio, to call on the Speaker to pass immigration reform including a roadmap to citizenship. Their message was simple: a path to citizenship is smart, moral and urgent. Earlier in the week, hundreds of evangelical leaders from 27 states met face to face with their Representatives on Capitol Hill to urge Congress to pass immigration reform.
Those actions were just a preview of what faith leaders will do during the critical August Congressional recess. Republican lawmakers now face a clear choice: heed the moral authority of families and faith leaders calling for citizenship, or continue to let Rep. Steve King set the party’s immigration agenda. While some GOP leaders distanced themselves from King’s recent accusation that DREAMers being drug smugglers (a claim faith leaders who work on the border forcefully rebuked), don’t forget that an overwhelming majority of Republican House Members voted in favor of King’s recent bill to resume mass deportation of DREAMers.
Not your father’s pope
Since his election to the papacy this spring, Pope Francis has earned headlines and widespread praise for symbolic gestures and substantive remarks about a variety of issues. His bold message about the dignity of immigrants and his damning indictment of both the values and the effects of unfettered global capitalism have resonated around the world and energized the faithful here in the U.S. As a Presbyterian minister, I believe his influence is already stretching well beyond the Catholic church.
For a personal reflection on the impact Pope Francis is having on people in the pews, check out this Washington Post On Faith essay by my colleague John Gehring, Faith in Public Life’s Catholic Program Director.
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Several of my colleagues at Faith in Public Life made a pilgrimage to this week’s Moral Monday demonstration at the North Carolina state capitol, where they found a moving display of the faith community’s moral courage and perseverance in the face of injustice. Building upon 12 weeks of remarkable grassroots mobilizing, hundreds of people came out to make their voices heard, more than 70 were arrested in acts of civil disobedience, and religious leaders stood on the front lines.
As I mentioned a few weeks ago, the Moral Monday movement, led by North Carolina NAACP President Rev. William Barber II, is uniting a diverse group of faith and secular leaders to push back on many immoral policies, including the Republican-controlled state legislature’s attacks on public education, tax credits for working families, safety net programs and healthcare. It’s no surprise that Moral Mondays has a higher approval rating than lawmakers in the state capitol.
The legislature’s latest scheme – voter suppression — will make undoing the damage more difficult. This week, GOP lawmakers advanced a bill that not only contains discriminatory voter ID requirements, but also scales back voter registration, early voting and access to polling places.
There’s something profoundly unjust about ramming through an unpopular, destructive agenda and then restricting voters’ ability to respond through the democratic process.
It’s no coincidence that North Carolina Republicans are doing this just weeks after five conservative Supreme Court justices struck down a key part of the Voting Rights Act. Before that ruling, large parts of the state were subject to federal pre-clearance of changes to voting laws because of the state’s extensive history of disenfranchising African Americans. Now, legislators can get away with laws that are designed to hinder constituencies such as minorities, young people and low-income people from voting.
It’s an unfortunate fact of life that extremist politicians across the country are pushing agendas that harm struggling families and are opposed by most Americans. As we gear up for federal debates on immigration reform, healthcare and budget priorities, the Moral Mondays campaign has provided a clear example of how the faith community can stand resolutely for justice.
In other news, check out this story about the growth of religious progressives as the religious right declines!
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It’s outrageous and heartbreaking that George Zimmerman was not held accountable for fatally shooting Trayvon Martin at point-blank range. This injustice affected Americans so deeply because it emblemized numerous intersecting pathologies of our society: a rampant culture of gun violence, inexcusable gun laws, deeply ingrained racism, and the devaluation of young black men’s lives.
At times like this it can be difficult to picture the day when tragedies like Trayvon’s killing no longer occur. But abolition and integration were once considered pipe dreams too, and the largely peaceful nationwide outpouring of grief after Zimmerman’s acquittal is a testament to faith leaders’ power to channel outrage into peaceful action, as Rev. William Barber II did at Moral Monday in North Carolina. While our hearts are troubled, our spirits must remain strong.
Catholic colleges call a path to citizenship ‘moral, urgent, practical’
A new group of influential leaders from the faith community weighed in on the immigration debate today. A press teleconference call this morning organized by Faith in Public Life unveiled a letter signed by 93 Catholic college presidents calling on Catholic members of the House of Representatives – including House Speaker John Boehner – to pass comprehensive immigration reform that includes a road to earned citizenship. The letter also ran as an ad in today’s print edition of Politico, as well as in targeted online ads. It said in part:
Our broken immigration system, which tears parents from children, traps aspiring Americans in the shadows and undermines the best values of this nation, is morally indefensible.
We hope that as you face intense political pressure from powerful interest groups, you will draw wisdom and moral courage from our shared faith tradition. Catholic teaching values the human dignity and worth of all immigrants, regardless of legal status. We remind you that no human being made in the image of God is illegal.
The letter is signed by nationally prominent Catholic universities such as Notre Dame, Georgetown and the Catholic University of America, as well as many colleges in districts represented by strategically important Republican lawmakers. As House Members weigh whether to support, obstruct or dilute reform that includes a roadmap to citizenship, the chorus of voices calling for a path to citizenship is growing louder.
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It’s hard to describe the relief I felt when the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act.
The outcome of the case was literally a matter of life and death for struggling families and people discriminated against by health insurance companies. Thanks to Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Kagan, Ginsberg, Sotomayor and Breyer, tens of millions of Americans will no longer be at risk of getting cut off from the care they need. Roberts, who has a very conservative record, shocked observers of all stripes by breaking ranks with the right wing and upholding the law. Dozens of nationally prominent faith leaders expressed strong approval of the decision.
Unfortunately one of the Affordable Care Act’s most important features – the expansion of Medicaid to cover all Americans who make less than 133% of the poverty level – was weakened by Roberts’s opinion. States may now opt out of this provision easily even though federal funding covers the overwhelming majority of the expense and refusing to accept it would take healthcare coverage away from struggling families.
Some Republican governors appear eager to deprive their constituents of healthcare. Already five GOP governors – Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Nikki Haley of South Carolina, Rick Scott of Florida and Terry Branstad of Iowa – have announced that they will refuse federal funding to expand Medicaid. This could deprive up to 1.4 million people of coverage. Numerous other GOP leaders are threatening to follow suit. Taking away people’s access to quality, affordable healthcare isn’t just cynical, it’s sinful. Putting the ideological demands of the Tea Party before the well-being of families isn’t
principled, it’s cowardly.
One of the reasons Congress passed the Affordable Care Act in the first place was because clergy and faith-based community organizers lifted up the human consequences and moral issues at stake. We can make the same impact now as we did back then.
The “Nuns on the Bus: Nuns Drive for Faith, Family and Fairness” tour, which concluded with an inspirational rally and press conference in Washington yesterday, strongly rebuked Congressman Paul Ryan’s immoral federal budget priorities and presented a faithful alternative. The Sisters on the bus received overwhelming popular support and extensive media coverage during their nine-state journey as they confronted Members of Congress who voted for the Ryan plan. As governors play political games with the well-being of vulnerable families, faith leaders need to mount this kind of pressure again and again in state after state.
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