John Gehring is the Catholic Program Director at Faith in Public Life.
Pope Francis has made economic justice, specifically the stark gap between rich and poor, a defining theme of his papacy. In his Apostolic Exhortation the Joy of the Gospel, Francis writes that “trickle down” economic theories — a sacred ideology for many conservatives — express a “crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power.” Framing economic dignity as a “pro-life” issue, the pope insists that we must reject an “economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.” In a recent tweet to his more than 10 million Twitter followers, the pope called inequality “the root of social evil.” When Francis dared to utter the “R” word (redistribution) last week, he crossed into highly charged terrain in this country that brought to mind candidate Obama’s infamous 2008 run-in with “Joe the Plumber.”
But Pope Francis’ understanding of “redistribution” doesn’t come from liberal think tanks or display a knee-jerk aversion to capitalism. It grows from orthodox Catholic teaching that is rooted in biblical values about the shared gift of creation.
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Washington, DC – In the lead up to Mother’s Day, prominent women religious leaders are challenging Congress to catch up with other developed nations and pass legislation that will help strengthen families.
“The ‘pro-family’ rhetoric in Washington does not address the shameful reality that the United States lags behind most developed nations when it comes to policies that support women and families,” more than 50 Christian, Jewish and Muslim women write in a letter today to House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) “It is morally unacceptable that millions of Americans still have no paid sick days, suffer from workplace discrimination because of a pregnancy and are trapped in poverty because the minimum wage is far below a living wage.”
Signatories on the letter include Bishop Mariann E. Budde, Episcopal Diocese of Washington; Bishop Minerva Carcaño of the United Methodist Church; Sr. Simone Campbell, Executive Director of NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby; Rev. Dr. Sharon E. Watkins, General Minister and President, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); Lisa Sharon Harper of Sojourners; Nancy Kaufman, CEO, National Council of Jewish Women and Ani Zonneveld, President, Muslims for Progressive Values.
The faith leaders note that nearly 40 million working Americans don’t have a single paid sick day, and urge Congress to pass the Healthy Families Act, which would allow workers in businesses with 15 employees or more to earn up to seven job-protected paid sick days each year. “Americans who barely get by from paycheck to paycheck should not be forced to make a cruel choice between keeping their jobs and the health of their families,” they write.
Only 12 percent of U.S. workers have access to paid family medical leave through their employees, according to the National Partnership for Women and Families. The Family Act, legislation that would create a national family leave and medical program, would, among other things, allow employees to care for a new child, address a serious health issue of not only themselves, but that of a parent or spouse.
“Pregnant women are particularly at risk in an economy that only values efficiency and profit,” the faith leaders write. “Even in 2012, for some women having a baby means losing a job or a promotion.” They urge Congress to pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which would prevent employers from forcing pregnant women out of the workplace and ensure that employers provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant women.
Noting that women are only paid 77 cents for every dollar paid to a man and that women represent nearly two-thirds of minimum wage-workers, the leaders urge elected officials to raise the minimum wage and “support legislative efforts that would alleviate these unconscionable inequities.”
The complete letter with signatories can be found below and here.
Dear Speaker Boehner and Sen. Reid,
As families prepare to celebrate Mother’s Day, we are mindful of the love and sacrifices that mothers make to strengthen our families and our country. However, we know that expressing our gratitude with flowers and kind words is not enough. The “pro-family” rhetoric in Washington does not address the shameful reality that the United States lags behind most developed nations when it comes to policies that support women and families.
As Christian, Jewish and Muslim women, we are inspired by diverse faith traditions that share a conviction that public policies must serve the dignity of the human person, support the family and promote the common good. It is morally unacceptable that millions of Americans still have no paid leave and sick days, suffer from workplace discrimination because of a pregnancy and are trapped in poverty because the minimum wage is far below a living wage.
Families and workplaces suffer when a mother or other family members can’t take time off to care for themselves, a sick child or an ailing parent. Nearly 40 million working Americans don’t have a single paid sick day. Americans who barely get by from paycheck to paycheck should not be forced to make a cruel choice between keeping their jobs and the health of their families. We urge you to support the Healthy Families Act, which would allow workers in businesses with 15 or more employees to earn up to seven job-protected paid sick days each year to recover from illness, get preventative care or care for a sick family member.
Pregnant women are particularly at risk in an economy that only values efficiency and profit. Even in 2014, for some women having a baby means losing a job or a promotion. While the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 protects employees from discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth or pregnancy-related conditions, pregnant workers still face unjust treatment in the workplace. This is especially true for pregnant women in low-wage jobs that are disproportionately made up of women of color and immigrants. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would prevent employers from forcing pregnant women out of the workplace and make sure employers provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant women.
Women now make up almost half the workforce, but a gender pay gap means they are paid 77 cents for every dollar paid to men. In addition, women represent nearly two-thirds of minimum-wage workers. A woman working full time at the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour earns just $14,500 – more than $4,000 below the poverty line for a family of three. Women also make up 72 percent of tipped workers who have not seen an increase in the tipped minimum wage of $2.13 per hour in more than two decades. We urge you to support legislative efforts that would alleviate these unconscionable inequities and enable women to provide for their families.
It’s time to move from lofty rhetoric about family values to responsible policies that help women and families.
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Faith in Public Life worked with our allies at PICO National Network and Communities Creating Opportunities to produce and place a radio ad.
Organized by a variety of groups including Missouri Faith Voices, Communities Creating Opportunities and the NAACP, the protest is just the beginning of a campaign of direct action to influence lawmakers and voters, said Andrew Kling, a spokesman for the protesters.
“To see direct action like this coming from the clergy really underscores the depth of their feelings,” Kling said.
The campaign also will include a radio ad targeting Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia. Schaefer is an opponent of Medicaid expansion and has called it too expensive. His support for a tax cut undermines that argument, Kling said.
In the ad, retired Methodist minister Jim Bryan of Columbia says lawmakers have a moral duty to support Medicaid expansion and that without it, 700 people are at risk of dying next year. He asks listeners to call Schaefer: “Tell him all God’s children should get the health care they need.”
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Washington, D.C. – U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez and U.S. Senator Cory Booker joined with faith leaders today to call on Congress to raise the federal minimum wage. The press conference announced the release of a letter, which will be sent to members of Congress to rally legislative support for raising the minimum wage ahead of tomorrow’s Senate vote. More than 350 clergy members signed the letter, along with more than 5,000 people of faith from across the country. During a teleconference, Perez, Booker and the faith leaders voiced their support for raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, citing both faith values and economic necessity.
U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez said that faith leaders have played a key role in the minimum wage fight, and that he has seen first-hand how the current minimum wage hurts hardworking American families. “The role of faith leaders in this debate is indispensable,” Sec. Perez said. “As I continue to travel the country, the stories I hear frankly break my heart…Progress is about persistence. We’re going to be persistent. Nobody who works a full-time job should have to live in poverty.”
“Being a Christian, I know what the call of my faith is, and I’m glad that faith leaders know that this is not just the economically right thing to do, but the moral thing to do,” Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) said. “As a former mayor in a community with a disproportionate amount of poverty, I know that the boost in take-home pay a low-income family would see as a result of a minimum wage increase would be infused into the economy very quickly – giving everyone a boost. Raising the minimum wage can bring transformative change for millions of Americans, especially women and children. When you pay workers more, you see tremendous benefits.
Rev. Larry Snyder, President of Catholic Charities USA, said that the current minimum wage fails to provide for the nearly 10 million people his organization serves each year. “This issue is a moral issue. The principles of Catholic social teaching give us a measure for how our policies impact our society, especially the least among us,” Rev. Snyder said. “It’s time to do something about raising the minimum wage in our country. When we can improve the lives of so many, it is the moral thing to do, and it is the right thing to do.”
“The call to raise the minimum wage is about more than income inequality. It’s a moral issue,” said Rev. Dr. James C. Perkins, Vice President of the Progressive National Baptist Convention and the pastor of the Greater Christ Baptist Church in Detroit. “Here is an opportunity to help families support themselves.”
Kim Bobo, the Executive Director of Interfaith Worker Justice, reaffirmed the commitment of faith leaders to the fight for a just minimum wage. “The faith community is united across the nation in advocating for increasing the minimum wage,” Bobo said. “All faith traditions teach us that we have to care for the least among us.”
The letter calling for an increased minimum wage that was announced during today’s teleconference will be sent to Congress ahead of tomorrow’s vote. The letter and national signers can be found here. The letter with a full list of clergy signers can be found here. The full text of the letter is included below:
Dear Member of Congress,
We represent diverse faith traditions, but we share a common conviction that the dignity of work and the security of the family are non-negotiable moral values. Driven by Scripture’s repeated admonitions against exploiting and oppressing workers, we believe that every job must enable those who work to support a family.
For the minimum wage to be moral and just, it must be a living family wage. A minimum wage that pays a full-time worker $290 a week is unjust in an economy as wealthy as ours.
Far too many of our neighbors and loved ones perform grueling and important jobs but are paid so little that they must turn to charity and government assistance to make ends meet.
After a long shift cleaning buildings, no mother should have to wait in line at a food pantry just to provide for her children. No farm worker who toils all day should lack a roof over his head at night.
History teaches us that in the absence of adequate labor laws many corporations will pay wages that are too paltry to sustain life. Legislation requiring employers to pay a living wage is indispensable to ensuring that no worker will suffer the indignity of poverty.
As faith leaders, we support increasing the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour and indexing it to inflation so it won’t be eroded by the rising cost of living. We also support raising the tipped wage to at least 70% of the minimum wage.
Abundant economic research demonstrates that raising the minimum wage does not hurt small businesses or cause layoffs, but in fact stimulates the economy while lifting many out of poverty.
We respect the dignity of our neighbors who toil under the yoke of today’s unjust minimum wage, and we call on our elected leaders to ease their burden by making the minimum wage a family wage.
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Faith in Public Life organized the conference call featuring faith leaders.
One day before the Senate is scheduled to vote on a proposed minimum wage hike, a broad coalition of religious leaders urged Congress to approve the measure in an open letter. Over 350 members of the clergy signed the letter, including members of the Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim faiths.
“We respect the dignity of our neighbors who toil under the yoke of today’s unjust minimum wage, and we call on our elected leaders to ease their burden by making the minimum wage a family wage,” according to the letter.
Interfaith Worker Justice national policy director Rev. Michael Livingston announced the publication of the letter on a Tuesday conference call hosted by his organization and the group Faith in Public Life. Sen. Corey Booker, D-N.J., and United States Labor Secretary Thomas Perez were also on the call to thank the proposed wage hike’s supporters in the religious community.
Religious institutions have played a central role in the minimum wage campaign since the first fast food strike in November 2012, when New York faith leaders joined protesting fast food workers on the picket line as they demanded a $15 base wage and the right to unionize. Since then, many of the larger fast food strikes and state or local minimum wage campaigns have benefited from faith-based support. Tuesday’s letter is an attempt to exert clerical pressure on a national scale, in favor of a $10.10 federal wage hike that would lift standards across most of the country.
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