Missouri citizens won an important victory last week as the state Supreme Court ruled to allow a ballot initiative to cap payday lending rates to go forward this year. Currently, Missouri allows some of the worst predatory lending abuses in the country, with interest rates as high as 400% being perfectly legal. The proposed initiative would cap rates at 36% to break the cycle of inescapable debt and financial difficulty the current rates cause.
The ruling comes as positive news to the Missourians for Responsible Lending campaign, the state coalition that collected over 350,000 signatures to put this petition on the ballot. The coalition includes faith groups like Communities Creating Opportunity, a Kansas City affiliate of the PICO National Network. Their impressive effort came despite a concerted effort by corporate interests to keep voters from weighing in on this issue. As a new report from Public Campaign reveals, special interests have funneled over $2.1 million into a shadowy astro-turf group called Missourians for Equal Credit Opportunity to block the initiative.
As campaign organizers have attested, corporate interests will stoop to truly thuggish tactics to protect their profits. Signature gatherers were followed, physically obstructed, and harassed by “blockers” who tried to thwart their efforts. Molly Fleming-Pierre, an organizer with Communities Creating Opportunities, described the intimidation tactics in May:
“Our people were taunted, mocked, bullied, and verbally assaulted down there. Sometimes it was nine big burly guys to one young female canvasser — trying to kick her off a site. She stayed. One of our pastors had the opposition blockers screaming in her face for nearly 30 minutes that she was a liar. Tails would follow our people, texting their blockers when our people would set up to canvass so that the intimidation was always mobile.”
Read more here: http://voices.kansascity.com/entries/payday-loan-defenders-resort-intimidation/#storylink=cpSomeon
Read more here: http://voices.kansascity.com/entries/payday-loan-defenders-resort-intimidation/#storylink=cpy
Someone even broke into an organizer’s car and stole 5,500 signatures shortly before a crucial deadline.
With the ruling, the initiative now only awaits the Secretary of State’s final certification of the signatures collected by Tuesday.
As yesterday’s statement from religious leaders showed, the House Republican vote to drastically roll back refundable tax credits that benefit working families (which 19 misguided Democrats joined) has put them on the opposite side of the faith community. And not just the progressive and moderate faith community — the GOP plan is so radically anti-family, it’s more extreme than even far-right religious groups.
In particular, by attacking the Child Tax Credit, House Republicans took aim at a key policy priority of the Family Research Council, usually one of their closest allies. Not only does FRC boast of “conceiving” the original idea for the credit, they’ve consistently campaigned for Congress to make it permanent and quintuple its maximum amount from the current $1,000 per child to $5,000. In contrast, the House GOP plan passed yesterday cuts the average family’s tax credit by $854.
When this issue came up last April, FRC was part of a diverse coalition of faith and family groups lobbying to protect this crucial policy. They even launched a petition to Congress that garnered over 37,000 signatures.
But in this latest round, as Republican extremism and obstruction threatens working families with this painful tax hike, FRC appears to have gone quiet. If FRC were truly committed to pro-family policy over partisan politics, they would have leaned on their Republican allies to vote against these dangerous cuts.
A diverse coalition of 60 faith leaders are releasing a statement today expressing their strong opposition to any legislative proposal that fails to extend the 2009 improvements made to refundable tax credits such as the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit:
These tax credits help families meet basic needs, reduce poverty, and remove barriers to work. It is hypocritical for lawmakers who talk about family values to abandon improvements in these effective, family-supporting programs. Failing to extend the improved tax credits would jeopardize the economic security and well-being of more than 15 million families and more than 36 million children within those families. This is simply unconscionable.
The statement comes as the House prepares to vote on competing tax plans as early as today. The Democratic plan already passed by the Senate would preserve tax breaks for 98% of Americans, only allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire for income over $250,000 earned by the top 2%. The House GOP proposal, on the other hand, would raise taxes on 25 million working Americans by undoing improvements to the aforementioned refundable tax credits in order to preserve tax breaks for the wealthiest few.
In addition to the statement, six of the letter-signers will hold a press conference on the Hill this morning sending the same message. Today’s speakers include FPL Executive Director Rev. Jennifer Butler, Rev. David Beckmann, President, Bread for the World; Rev. Jim Wallis, President and CEO, Sojourners; Sr. Simone Campbell, Executive Director, NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby; Rev. Michael Livingston, Director, National Council of Churches Poverty Initiative; and Rev. Noel Castellanos, CEO, Christian Community Development Association
UPDATE: Video from the event below.
Other letter signers include:
Mark J. Allman, Religious Theological Studies Department, Merrimack College Gerald J. Beyer, Associate Professor of Theology, Saint Joseph’s University Joanna Brooks, Progressive Mormon author Bishop John R. Bryant, African Methodist Episcopal Church Nicholas P. Cafardi, Dean Emeritus and Professor of Law, Duquesne University School of Law Tony Campolo, Professor Emeritus of Sociology, Eastern University Patrick Carolan, Executive Director, Franciscan Action Network Rev. Drew Christiansen, S.J., Editor in Chief, America Magazine Richard Cizik, President, New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good Rev. John A. Coleman, S.J., Associate Pastor, St. Ignatius Parish, San Francisco M. Shawn Copeland, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology, Boston College Rev. Chuck Currie, Minister, Sunnyside Church and University Park Church, Portland, Oregon Nancy Dallavalle, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology, Department of Religious Studies, Fairfield University Marie Dennis, Co-President, Pax Christi International Sr. Pat Farrell, OSF, President, Leadership Conference of Women Religious Francis Schüssler Fiorenza, Stillman Professor for Roman Catholic Theological Studies, Harvard Divinity School Rev. Michael Harrison, President, Ohio Baptist State Convention Rev. Dr. Peter Heltzel, Micah Institute at New York Theological Seminary Sr. Mary Ann Hinsdale, IHM, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology, Boston College Joel C. Hunter, Senior Pastor, Northland, A Church Distributed John Inglis, Professor and Chair, Department of Philosophy, Cross-appointed to Department of Religious Studies, University of Dayton Paul Lakeland, Aloysius P. Kelly, S.J. Professor of Catholic Studies, Fairfield University Sr. Gayle Lwanga Crumbley, RGS, National Coordinator, National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd Kathleen Maas Weigert, Assistant to the Provost for Social Justice Initiatives, Loyola University, Chicago Rev. Steven D. Martin, Executive Director, New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good Rev. Bryan N. Massingale, Professor of Theological Ethics, Marquette University Gene McCarraher, Associate Professor of Humanities, Villanova University Sr. Patricia McDermott, RSM, President, Sisters of Mercy of the Americas Rev. Brian McLaren, Evangelical writer and speaker Rev. Dr. A. Roy Medley, General Secretary, American Baptist Churches, USA Alex Mikulich, Assistant Professor, Jesuit Social Research Institute, Loyola University, New Orleans Vincent J. Miller, Gudorf Chair in Catholic Theology and Culture, Department of Religious Studies, University of Dayton Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, III, Senior Pastor, Trinity United Church of Christ, Chicago Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness, Washington, DC David O’Brien, University Professor of Faith and Culture, University of Dayton William L. Portier, Chair of Catholic Theology, University of Dayton Christopher Pramuk, Associate Professor of Theology, Xavier University, Cincinnati Rev. Thomas J. Reese, S.J., Senior Fellow, Woodstock Theological Center, Georgetown University Rev. Gabriel Salguero, President, National Latino Evangelical Coalition Stephen F. Schneck, Director, Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies, The Catholic University of America Ron Sider, President, Evangelicals for Social Action Anthony B. Smith, Associate Professor, Department of Religious Studies, University of Dayton John Sniegocki, Associate Professor of Christian Ethics, Xavier University, Cincinnati Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, Professor of Theology and former President, Chicago Theological Seminary Terrence W. Tilley, Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., Professor of Catholic Theology and Chair, Theology Department, Fordham University, Bronx Bishop Edgar L. Vann, Second Ebeneezer Church, Detroit Rev. Dr. Sharon E. Watkins, General Minister and President, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the U.S. and Canada Todd Whitmore, Associate Professor of Christian Ethics, University of Notre Dame Barbara Williams-Skinner, Founder, Skinner Leadership Institute Jim Winkler, General Secretary, General Board of Church & Society of the United Methodist Church Tobias Winright, Associate Professor of Theological Ethics, Saint Louis University Aidsand Wright-Riggins, III, Executive Director, American Baptist Home Mission Societies
As Congress debates various tax and spending plans, the United States Catholic Bishops are weighing in with a poweful message about the moral terms of the debate.
In a pair of letters to Senators and Representatives, the Most Reverend Stephen E. Blaire, Bishop of Stockton, California and Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development makes clear that the Bishops stand firmly against any plan that takes aim at the poor to protect the rich:
A just framework for future budgets cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons; it requires shared sacrifice by all, including raising adequate revenues, eliminating unnecessary military and other spending, and addressing the long-term costs of health insurance and retirement programs fairly.
In particular, Bishop Blaire identifies the importance of Earned Income Tax Credit and the refundable Child Tax Credit, which Republican lawmakers have singled out for elimination in order to pay for preserving tax cuts for the rich. He calls the tax credits “pro-work, pro-family, and some of the most effective antipoverty programs in our nation,” and specifically urges lawmakers to protect “improvements and extensions” to those credits, referring to the expansions made in the 2009 stimulus bill that helped more families weather the recession.
Catholic leaders have been busy cracking down on nuns and theologians while also keeping a vigilant eye on those wily Girl Scouts.The Catholic Diocese of Arlington, Va.,is pulling a card from the McCarthy-era playbook by requiring Sunday school teachers to sign loyalty oaths. David Gibson, a prominent Catholic writer, notes in a recent NPR segment that the Vatican is doing all it can to “bring a schismatic right-wing group that rejects the reforms of Vatican II back into the fold while at the same time, it’s censuring nuns and theologians who are actually following the spirit of Vatican II.”
So when will influential Catholic organizations and public figures feel the heat for ignoring church teaching when it comes to issues like poverty, economic justice and workers’ rights? Why the free pass for Catholic conservatives like Rev. Robert Sirico, president of the Acton Institute, who is making the rounds on Fox News defending the aggrieved richest 1 percent of Americans and preaching a gospel of free-market fundamentalism that is at odds with centuries of Catholic social teaching? Fr. Sirco’s public love letters to libertarianism, most recently in his new book – Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy – surely put him in the good graces of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce or even the Romney campaign. But one would hope his bishop might at least raise an eyebrow.
A familiar presence on the op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal, Rev. Sirico recently told the New York Times that the church’s historic defense of unions might not apply to labor fights at Catholic universities today. In a lengthy interview with the National Review he praised Ayn Rand and smugly disparaged those non-habit wearing Catholic nuns for having the audacity to challenge a House GOP budget that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops described as failing a basic moral test. While the Ryan budget has no chance of passing its been endorsed by Mitt Romney and serves as an ideological blueprint for a conservative economic agenda that insists we must make a false choice between protecting the most vulnerable and being fiscally responsible. Fr. Sirico’s free-market theology and anti-government zeal often sounds more like Tea Party rhetoric than Pope Benedict XVI, who warns about the “scandal of glaring inequalities” between rich and poor, or the late Pope John Paul II who cautioned against an “idolatry of the market.” Vincent Miller, the chair of Catholic theology and culture at the University of Dayton, recently wrote in America magazine that Rev. Sirico’s “well financed defense of libertarian economics often rise to the level of self-parody.” Daniel Finn, a professor of theology and economics at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University, offered a detailed theological critique of Rev. Sirico in Commonweal magazine back in 2008.
Some conservatives have questioned the funding of progressive faith groups working to balance out a values debate that in recent decades has been dominated by the Religious Right. Much of this criticism is overheated conspiracy mongering from those who live in some imaginary world where religious liberals are more organized and well-funded than a politically powerful Christian conservative movement that has helped elect presidents and until recently ran circles around religious progressives in the media. But if we’re going to play the funding game let’s take a look at who has made it possible for a Catholic priest to build a national media profile churning out paeans to the free market and putting a moral gloss on corporate talking points. Not surprisingly, big business and wealthy Republicans are bullish on Rev. Sirico. The Acton Institute is backed by the DeVos family, prominent donors to the Republican Party and various conservative organizations that lobby lawmakers to slash government programs that help the most vulnerable, lower taxes on the rich and deregulate Wall Street. “Other than possibly the Koch brothers, few billionaires have a more established place in conservative America than the DeVos clan,” according to Forbes magazine. The billionaire Koch brothers, the most influential conservative donors in the country (they just hosted a lavish fundraiser for Mitt Romney in the Hamptons and plan to spend $200 million in this election) have also contributed to Rev. Sirico’s Acton Institute in the past, according to the corporate accountability and transparency group Source Watch.
Wealthy conservatives have every right to lobby for a return of trickle-down economics, but popes and bishops for centuries have rejected the blind faith in unfettered markets and radical individualism promoted by groups like the Acton Institute. Last fall, the Vatican released a timely document that calls for more robust global financial reform and offered a sharp moral critique of the kind of laissez-faire economics Rev. Sirico preaches.
The Catholic Church has plenty of room for liberals, moderates and conservatives. We need a spirited debate over how to properly apply Catholic social teaching to public policy challenges in a pluralistic society. But I worry about the message that is sent when nuns, theologians and progressive Catholics are demonized by church officials even as prominent conservative Catholics appear on national television to peddle ideologies that are at odds with bedrock Catholic values.