More than 100 Pennsylvania Faith Leaders Voice Support for Death Penalty Moratorium

June 10, 2015, 11:06 am | Posted by

Harrisburg, PA – Today, more 100 Pennsylvania religious leaders released a letter announcing their strong support for Gov. Tom Wolf’s decision to temporarily halt all executions. The coalition of faith leaders agrees that the death penalty is immoral and incompatible with their faith.

“While we come to the issue of the death penalty from a variety of perspectives, we deeply value the sanctity of all human life and believe that pausing executions in order to evaluate the death penalty’s human and financial toll on our state is warranted and necessary,” the letter reads, in part.

The clergy call upon lawmakers to reexamine Pennsylvania’s use of the death penalty and support the moratorium.

The signers join a growing chorus of religious leaders across the United States that are leading the fight to end the death penalty. They plan to continue to organize and advocate to ensure that that, “our state’s leaders conclude that the death penalty, as it has been carried out in Pennsylvania, is inconsistent with the values our state wishes to uphold.”

“The Pennsylvania Council of Churches see the message of a Messiah that was unjustly executed as sufficient reason to oppose the death penalty,” said Rev. Sandra L. Strauss, the Director of Advocacy and Ecumenical Outreach with the Pennsylvania Council of Churches. “The death penalty disproportionately affects people of color and the poor, and leaves no room for redemption and restoration.”

Representatives from the clergy coalition will gather with other anti-death penalty advocates tomorrow at the State Capitol to speak in support of the moratorium.

The text of the letter is below. The text and full list of signers can be found here.

We, the undersigned faith leaders, have joined together in support of the moratorium on executions in Pennsylvania. While we come to the issue of the death penalty from a variety of perspectives, we deeply value the sanctity of all human life and believe that pausing executions in order to evaluate the death penalty’s human and financial toll on our state is warranted and necessary.

We believe that those who commit violent crimes should be held accountable for their actions, and the public should be protected from those who seek to harm others, but there is strong evidence that we can achieve justice and protect our communities without resorting to more killing in the name of vengeance.

There is little evidence to suggest that the death penalty increases public safety any more than long prison sentences, and there is a great deal of evidence to suggest that the death penalty is applied unevenly and unfairly, even for similar crimes. Some people are sentenced to die because they couldn’t afford a better lawyer, or because they stand trial in a county that happens to seek the death penalty frequently. Approximately 65% of men and women on death row in our state are people of color. A system that is applied so unevenly should not be allowed to choose who lives and who dies.

We are also troubled by the possibility of executing an innocent person. Nationally, more than 150 men and women have been released from death row after evidence of their wrongful convictions emerged, including six from Pennsylvania. The execution of an innocent person would be an intolerable injustice.

Further, there is evidence that the death penalty prolongs the suffering of many victims’ family members as these cases involve years of legal uncertainty, scores of meaningless death warrants, additional court hearings, and frequent media headlines that can re-traumatize victims and reopen wounds again and again.

Study after study also show that death penalty cases are far more expensive than cases where a sentence of life without parole or other long prison sentences are sought due to the Constitutionally mandated safeguards that are required in all capital cases. The expenditure of the state’s limited financial resources should reflect our values, and we must ask ourselves if the resources currently being spent on the pursuit of executions could be redirected to programs that will better serve victims’ families and address the root causes of crime.

We’ve heard repeatedly that asking state workers to carry out executions in our name places an incredible burden on them, one that we may never truly understand. We must also ask ourselves whether it is ever fair to inflict this burden on another human being.

Finally, as people of faith, we believe in believe in and affirm every person’s capacity for redemption. Government should not resort to policies that cut off the opportunity to repent.

For all of these reasons, we support a moratorium on executions and encourage our state’s leaders to conclude that the death penalty, as it has been carried out in Pennsylvania, is inconsistent with the values our state wishes to uphold.


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Georgia Clergy Launch Faith-Based Campaign Against Gun Violence

April 14, 2015, 1:21 pm | Posted by

Atlanta, GA – A broad coalition of clergy and people of faith from across Georgia gathered at The Temple on Tuesday to kick off a campaign to curb gun violence and prevent more harmful gun legislation from passing in the state legislature.

The group was a fraction of the more than 300 clergy who are a part of Outcry: Faith Voices Against Gun Violence.

“It’s not easy for all of us with this much theological diversity to agree on anything. But on gun violence, we all agree. We know gun violence in Georgia stems from many places, and won’t be solved by just one action, “ said Rabbi Peter Berg, Senior Rabbi, The Temple. “This journey will be filled with obstacles and unexpected turns, but we’re ready to begin a plan of action that will make a difference in our communities.”

Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock, Senior Pastor, Ebenezer Baptist Church, said “I’m not a politician, just a preacher. But we believe that what you say on Sunday, you must live on Monday. We have metal detectors at our Statehouse. We ask our politicians who advocate for these gun laws, if they make sense in schools, why not in the legislature? It’s time to have an honest debate about this issue. It’s time to get serious. Our message is plain. The gun lobby and gun manufacturers should not own our state. So will be advocating throughout the summer and into next session for common sense gun laws.”

“This kind of violence and bloodshed we’re seeing is a revolt against love. As a father, I struggle to explain what I see on the news to my children. If you want to see if it passes a logic test, try explaining the logic of gun violence to a child,” said Bishop Robert Wright, Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta.

“We believe that the opposite of faith is not doubt, the opposite of faith is fear, and we strongly oppose the ways in which those who profit most from the sale of weapons prey most on the fears of our citizens,” said Rev. Dr. David Bartlett, Theologian in Residence, Trinity Presbyterian Church.

“God is on everyone’s side. As we go about our work, whatever we do, we do knowing that God’s will is that none should be lost to violence,” said Rev. Dr. Joanna Adams, retired minister, Presbyterian Church (USA).

Rabbi Loren Lapidus, Associate Rabbi at The Temple said, “Through our understanding of God and Scripture, we know that gun violence is a moral issue. And our faith compels us to take action.”

Over the next year, Outcry is planning to grow their coalition, meet with lawmakers to advocate for responsible firearm legislation, and engage congregations through a banner campaign, educational events, and prayer.

Outcry has been played a key role in the campaign for common sense gun laws, including protections for houses of worship in last year’s “guns everywhere” law, and with this year’s HB 492. The coalition seesTuesday’s launch as the first step in a long, faith-centered journey toward safer communities.

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Georgia Clergy Applaud Defeat of “Religious Freedom” Bill

April 3, 2015, 12:36 pm | Posted by

Atlanta, GA – Today, Georgia Clergy United Against Discrimination issued the following statement on behalf of the more than 250 Georgia faith leaders who voiced their opposition to divisive “religious freedom” legislation:

We are relieved and heartened that Georgia state legislators have heard our call to back away from legislation that would have legalized discrimination in the name of religion.  Freedom of religion is one of our most fundamental rights as Americans, but religious freedom does not give us the right to harm or exclude others.  This is a victory for all Georgians. Today we have chosen to embrace a spirit of love and self-discipline over and against a spirit of division and exclusion. We’ve chosen to work for the common good, rather than sow seeds of intolerance.

A diverse coalition of Georgia clergy played an integral role in helping to defeat the RFRA bills. In addition to issuing a letter signed by more than 250 religious leaders, the clergy convened press conferences, wrote op-eds, ran newspaper ads and lobbied lawmakers. They made it clear that this dangerous legislation was not representative of Georgia’s faith community, and was fundamentally at odds with their values.

Media coverage of their actions included:

Clergy Speak Out On ‘Religious Freedom’ Bill Proposed In Ga, Associated Press

Faith leaders denounce religious liberty bill ahead of hearing, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Supporters tout “religious liberty” bill, as clergy criticize it, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Georgia Baptist clergy oppose ‘religious liberty’ bill, Baptist News Global

‘Religious Freedom’ Bill Debate Heats Up At Georgia Capitol, WABE

Georgia Baptist leaders call ‘religious freedom’ bill a ‘religious manipulation’ bill, Georgia Voice

Clergy come out against ‘religious freedom’ bill, Project Q Atlanta



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Georgia Clergy Respond to Dangerous New Gun Legislation

April 1, 2015, 1:47 pm | Posted by

Atlanta, GA – Today, a diverse group of clergy responded to the Georgia House’s passage of HB 492. The bill would further expand the state’s “guns everywhere” law, eliminating the ability of state agencies – like school boards – to regulate gun possession on their property, abolishing the fingerprint requirement for gun license renewals and reducing the discretion of probate judges to decide whether to issue gun licenses.

Georgia’s faith community is deeply concerned by this bill and the risk it poses. As they continue to organize and engage around gun legislation and its impacts on public safety, they hope that Governor Deal will consider vetoing this dangerous proposal.

The following statements are from prominent Georgia faith leaders responding to the passage of HB 492:

Bishop Robert C. Wright, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta:

“HB 492 makes our gun laws more lax. This bill solves nothing. It only creates the potential for more gun violence and increases political polarization in Georgia.”

Rabbi Neil Sandler, Senior Rabbi at Ahavath Achim Synagogue:

“The recently passed bill will tie the hands of local school boards, among other potentially helpful bodies, when it comes to regulating the possession of guns on school property.  We speak of our places of worship as ‘sanctuaries.’  When it comes to guns and the well – being of our children, shouldn’t our schools also be ‘sanctuaries’ where the most precious among us, our children, are safe and protected?”

Rev. Damon P. Williams, Senior Pastor at Providence Missionary Baptist Church:

“Expanding the ‘guns everywhere’ law is another step in the wrong direction that makes it harder to keep guns out of the hands of people who are a danger to the community.”

Rev. Matthew Ruffner, Associate Pastor at Trinity Presbyterian Church:

“Once again the legislature has shown reckless indifference to the dangers posed by irresponsible ‘guns everywhere’ laws. I’m asking Gov. Deal to pause and consider the consequences of making it easier for dangerous people to walk our streets armed.”


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Ohio Faith Leaders Urge Support for Federal Crackdown on Predatory Lending

April 1, 2015, 12:38 pm | Posted by

Columbus, OH  –  Today, faith leaders and consumer advocates joined together to support strong regulations to rein in the predatory lending practices of payday lenders. The press conference follows proposed draft rules by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) that call for reigning in short-term loans that often have interest rates in excess of 400 percent.

In 2008, Ohio voters overwhelmingly supported a ballot issue to cap interest rates at 28 percent.  However, the payday industry has found loopholes to continue to take advantage of Ohio borrowers.

“The payday lending crowd found a loophole and things got even worse,’’ explained Bill Faith, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio and who led the 2008 campaign. “Voters have made themselves clear by a two-to-one margin that they want to see regulation on these short term, high interest rate loans. We are happy to see the CFPB is taking some action.This issue requires a comprehensive national solution.”

Others who spoke include, Sister Roberta Miller, Dominican Sisters of Peace who said, “I have seen students who sometimes have two or three jobs struggle with this debt. And my own faith believes that this debt is wrong.”

“Many of you may know that Pope Francis believes that when a family gets caught up in debt and they can’t provide the clothing, food and shelter that they need. This is not Christian, and not even human,” said Miller.

Faith Leaders across Ohio joined together to release a letter signed by nearly 100 clergy calling for an end to predatory lending practices. “Scripture is replete with condemnations of those who prey upon the poor, vulnerable and weak people,” says the letter, in part.

Rev. Deniray Mueller, of Columbus said that, “Ohio clergy have united in sending a letter to the Bureau and the legislators to try and make them realize they have an obligation to end these immoral lending practices. If they are Christian, then they need to listen to their moral compass.”

Participants in the press conference said they will work to strengthen and improve the proposed new federal rules.

The text of the letter from faith leaders is below. The letter and full list of signers can be found here.

As faith leaders, we hold diverse views on many issues, but we are united in the belief that usury is a sin. We therefore oppose the predatory practices of payday lenders who charge up to 400% interest on loans that trap struggling families, seniors, low-wage workers and veterans in a cycle of debt that leads to poverty, suffering and bankruptcy. Scripture is replete with condemnations of those who prey upon poor, vulnerable and weak people.

Right now, abuses such as exorbitant interest rates, extending loans to people who clearly cannot repay them, and directly siphoning money from borrowers’ bank accounts even if they can’t afford food and shelter are perfectly legal. This is unconscionable, and it must change.

While payday lenders claim to provide quick emergency loans that help people get out of financial trouble, the reverse is true. The average payday loan borrower is still paying off debt six months after taking out her first payday loan. More than half of all payday loans get renewed or rolled over so many times that the borrower eventually repays twice the amount borrowed in the first place. All too often, borrowers’ credit is left in ruins. These loans lead to poverty, not security.

In 2008, the Ohio faith community came together to champion reform of the egregious practices of payday lenders in our state. We supported passage of the Ohio Short-Term Loan Act and then defended it at the ballot. But the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that the Act was not sufficient to regulate payday lenders, and payday lending has grown. Families again often face over 400% interest rates as unscrupulous lenders take advantage of arcane lending laws. 

We call on you to urge the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to issue a strong regulation in order to end the payday loan debt trap and support legislation capping the rates on payday loans at 36% annualized interest. These are two complementary and important steps that help protect Ohioans from predatory debt.

Many issues you face as an elected official are morally complex, with competing legitimate moral arguments on both sides. But there is no moral ambiguity about whether to end predatory payday lending practices. We urge you to fulfill your responsibility as a public servant.


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