Last Friday, in response to his state’s budget deficit, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker proposed to raid the pension funds of public employees and strip them of their collective bargaining rights. These extremist proposals have been met by massive protests, with over 30,000 workers and allies rallying at the state capitol.
This week, local faith leaders joined the efforts. Inspired by the moral clarity of their faith traditions on the rights of workers, Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki and Bishop Linda Lee of the Wisconsin Conference of the United Methodist Church stood for unions and collective bargaining, and over 50 faith leaders sent a letter to Governor Walker yesterday opposing his proposal.
Now, religious leaders from the surrounding area are joining in. In response to the news that 14 State Senators have fled to Illinois to prevent a vote, area clergy are offering them sanctuary–inviting them to places of worship for hospitality and support until the state can find a fairer solution to their budgetary woes.
Listen to the faith leaders on a press teleconference call talk about their offer here:
Participants on the call:
- Rabbi Renee Bauer, Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice of South Central Wisconsin
- Reverend Kurt Anderson, Pastor, First Congregational Church, Madison, WI
- Father G. Simon Harak, S.J., Director, Center for Peacemaking, Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI
- Reverend Amanda Stein, Pastor, Trinity United Methodist Church, Madison, WI
- Rabbi Bruce Elder, Congregation Hafaka, Glencoe, IL
- Reverend Jason Coulter, Pastor, Ravenswood United Church of Christ, Chicago, IL
State workers across the country engage in work serving humanity, teaching children, guarding prisons, caring for the mentally ill, and other essential services. A moral budget must not be balanced at their expense, and deficits should not be used as a pretext to take away workers’ rights to negotiate for fair wages and working conditions.
Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons contributed to this post.
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Religion News Service’s Dan Burke had a fascinating piece today pointing out that religious right leaders are latching onto the budget deficit as a moral issue. Based on the newsletters and action alerts I get from various conservative Christian groups, I think Dan’s definitely onto something. A couple of things jumped out at me:
Likewise, the Washington-based Family Research Council has delivered “action alerts” about the debt to its network of 40,000 pastors and myriad state-based advocacy groups. The Christian Coalition, Concerned Women for America, and the Faith and Freedom Coalition, a new group led by GOP strategist Ralph Reed, are also warning members with increasing intensity that the deficit is reaching immoral proportions.
First, the national debt is a good mobilizing issue for the Republican coalition, able to unite social conservatives and fiscal hawks, whose alliance has sometimes been strained. Secondly, it allows religious leaders to ride the Tea Party wave of anger against government spending. And lastly, it broadens the conservative Christian agenda beyond such culture war battles as abortion and gay marriage.
Recall also that in Ralph Reed’s post-election press conference last November he called the deficit and the debt a great moral issue for conservative Christian voters, and that FRC Action PAC’s campaign ad blitz last fall consisted of 30-second spots about big government and spending, without any religious or values messaging. They could just as easily have been produced by the NRCC or the Club for Growth.
Politically speaking, it all makes sense. If conservative religious leaders want to keep their powerful position within the broader conservative coalition, they need to get with the program on the Right’s message du jour even if it’s not about their traditional core issues. But the religious right leadership’s professed moral concern for deficits doesn’t hold up so well. For one thing, they have a credibility problem — they didn’t complain when the budget deficit and the national debt exploded while Republicans controlled the House, the Senate and the White House, and even now they have no problem advocating for massive tax cuts that add hundreds of billions to the deficit.
For another, their Scriptural proof-texting is rather thin. While it’s easy to point to verses such as Proverbs 13:22 (‘a good man leaves an inheritance for his children’s children’) as evidence of the Biblical imperative to balance the government’s books, you’d be hard-pressed to come up with verses that call for pursuing this goal by, say, taking away people’s access to healthcare – as the House GOP’s continuing resolution does. Furthermore, using the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., to argue for fiscal austerity, as FRC fellow Ken Blackwell does, is absurd. Given that King advocated massive social spending to alleviate poverty, speculating that King would support fiscal austerity today in the midst of poverty and inequality is a fantasy and an insult.
Also, it’d be easier to believe religious right leaders’ professed moral concern that the debt will ruin our children’s future if they didn’t advocate making drastic cuts to programs that ensure children have adequate nutrition, health care, education and housing in the present. It might help their standing within the conservative coalition, but as a moral argument it rings hollow.
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Rep. King’s upcoming hearings on Muslim ‘radicalization’ have already prompted criticism from fellow members of Congress, law enforcement officials and a coalition of national religious and rights groups–criticism King has defiantly shrugged off.
Now, residents of King’s home community of Long Island are joining these concerns. A new letter signed by over 80 faith and community leaders from the Long Island area objects to King’s singling out of the Muslim community and calls for an inclusive and fair dialogue instead:
Protecting our nation requires allegiance to the fundamental values that give life to our democracy. A commitment to pluralism and respect for diversity are strengths in the fight against terrorism. We agree that law enforcement must find practical solutions to stop terrorism, whether these threats come from religious or non-religious extremists. Muslim-Americans have consistently denounced terrorism and worked closely with law enforcement to prevent violence. Building and maintaining trust with the Muslim community is crucial to furthering this cooperation, and we fear your hearings will only sow greater distrust and division at a time when unity and moral courage are needed.
A more constructive approach to strengthening the bonds of trust that bolster our security and protect our values would be convening a dialogue among faith leaders, law enforcement and elected officials such as yourself. It is with a spirit of goodwill and sincere hope that we propose beginning such an initiative with you.
King’s intransigence in response to criticism so far has been fairly consistent. But perhaps hearing directly from constituents in his district will cause him to rethink his perspective.
Read the full letter here.
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The House GOP leadership and the Obama administration’s competing budget plans have set the stage for a debate that will determine whether millions of Americans will lose access to health care, adequate nutrition, and numerous crucial forms of assistance that enable them to meet their families’ needs as our economy continues to struggle.
Today Senate Appropriations Committee Chairperson Daniel Inouye (D-HI) released an analysis detailing some of the House Republican Continuing Resolution’s effects on families. A few findings:
- The Republican proposal would eliminate comprehensive early childhood services for 218,000 low-income children and their families next year (a cut of over 20 percent), close over 16,000 Head Start and Early Head Start classrooms, and lay off 55,000 teachers, teacher assistants, and related staff.
- The Republican proposal would eliminate child care subsidies for 150,000 children compared to this year and 120,000 compared to the funding level in the Omnibus, drastically reducing the affordability and availability of quality child care for low-income families. These are families that are working, or in some cases looking for work, and that depend on those subsidies to do so.
- The Republican proposal would eliminate funding for 127 clinics in 39 States (and two territories) and reduce services at another 1,096 Community Health Centers nation-wide. More than 2.8 million people would likely lose access to their current primary care provider and over 5,000 health center staff could lose their jobs.
If media buzz over the past couple of days is any indication, the public debate for the next few weeks will focus on debt, the deficit and entitlements. But the immediate needs of families who are having trouble making ends meet are also at stake, and we can’t forget that.
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Last week we blogged about the House GOP’s proposed budget cuts, which would cause great hardship for millions of Americans struggling to make ends meet in our weak economic climate. The White House released its official budget proposal today, and while it protects many of the needed programs the GOP wants to destroy, it still includes painful reductions in programs essential to American families.
As a budget showdown looms and crucial protections for families are threatened, prominent faith leaders are sending a special message to elected officials today reminding them that “a budget that leaves out families is like a valentine that leaves out love.”
Behind the effort:
- Rabbi Steve Gutow, President and CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs
- Sr. Simone Campbell, Executive Director of NETWORK, a National Catholic Social Justice Lobby
- Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches
Read the full press release here.
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