A force for justice

August 28, 2012, 2:33 pm | Posted by

While political conventions and the daily twists and turns of the Presidential campaigns grab the headlines, faith leaders are working hard in communities nationwide to change the debate and advance the common good in substantive ways. The Nuns on the Bus Tour’s success calling media attention to the Ryan budget was a great example of this, and there are many others.

Last week members of Bend the Arc, an innovative new Jewish social justice group, kicked off their eight-state “If I Were a Rich Man” tour to confront Members of Congress from both parties who are personally wealthy and support tax breaks for the richest Americans that hamstring our ability to preserve an adequate safety net as we pay off the debt. This campaign not only highlights the faith community’s commitment to tax fairness as a moral issue, but also raises important questions about individual lawmakers’ biases in favor of the wealthy.

When President Obama made the long overdue decision this summer to defer prosecution of young undocumented immigrants who qualify for the DREAM Act, faith leaders rejoiced. But the pronouncement alone didn’t bring relief to those trapped by our broken system. In order to qualify for the chance to stay, they must complete a complex application process. Religious groups are stepping up to help young people navigate these difficult waters. Churches are hosting legal clinics for thousands who want to contribute to our nation’s future and are in violation of immigration law through no fault of their own, and faith-based immigration reform advocates are providing hands-on assistance. (On a side note, take a look at these inspiring images of thousands of people lining up to apply to stay in America.)

Grassroots faith leaders are also mobilizing to affect crucial state-level debates. In Missouri, a religious coalition is fighting for economic fairness and justice by working to pass ballot initiatives raising the minimum wage and capping the interest rates predatory payday lenders can charge. Next month Catholic sisters will conduct a statewide Nuns on the Bus tour to call attention to the Ryan budget’s devastating effects on communities across Missouri.

I’m proud of the impact the faith community is making this year. From shaping national media narratives on the economy and taxes to helping immigrants take advantage of important new opportunities to come out of the shadows, we’re demonstrating for all to see that religion is a powerful force for justice.

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Order in the Court: Supremely Important Decisions

June 26, 2012, 2:58 pm | Posted by

This week, several Supreme Court decisions will have profound effects on our nation’s future, and people of faith are speaking up.

Yesterday the court overturned key sections of Arizona’s SB 1070, the anti-immigrant law faith leaders fought because it subjects Latinos to harassment, discrimination and profiling. Unfortunately, the court didn’t strike down one of the most dangerous parts of the law – the “show me your papers” provision requiring law enforcement officers verify the immigration status of people they stop. Religious leaders responded by expressing disappointment that the ruling still allows racial profiling, but also commended the justices for striking down the other provisions.

Thursday, the justices will announce their verdict on the Affordable Care Act. The outlook isn’t good. In a survey of 21 top legal scholars last week, 19 said the law’s individual coverage mandate was constitutional based on legal precedent, but only eight thought the justices will uphold the law in its entirety. The potential consequences are grave. Access to health insurance for tens of millions of people, the stability of our healthcare system, and the fate of people with pre-existing conditions and serious illnesses hang in the balance. If the law is overturned or weakened, Republicans who fought for repeal of “Obamacare” face an immediate moral responsibility to pass policies that ensure no one is harmed because of their partisan agenda.

During the healthcare debate of 2009 and 2010, Faith in Public Life and key religious partners mounted a multifaceted campaign to provide quality, affordable health care for all Americans. Within hours of the public launch of our effort, the conservative Family Research Council called it an “anti-faith, anti-family, anti-freedom agenda.” Throughout the debate Republican leaders and the Religious Right relentlessly distorted the legislation, calling it a “government takeover,” claiming that it included “death panels” and alleging that it provided taxpayer funding of abortion.

By the time the law finally passed, pro-health reform faith leaders had generated scores of vigils, hundreds of visits to Congress, thousands of media hits, millions of prayers, and crucial rebuttals to the Right’s dishonest rhetoric. It wasn’t in service of a partisan agenda, it was in accordance with our belief that all people, created in the image of God, deserve medical treatment for the illnesses and injuries we all face over the course of life. This conviction leads us to pray that the Supreme Court does the right thing on Thursday, and spurs us to action if they don’t.

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A Bible Lesson for Alabama Governor Bentley

May 7, 2012, 11:05 am | Posted by

Last week, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley said this of the religious demonstrators who engaged in civil disobedience in protest of the state’s harsh anti-immigrant law, HB 56:

“If they read what I read in the Bible, the Bible says you always obey the law”

Noticing that this statement contradicts a long history of religious activism, Unitarian Universalist minister Rev. Fred L Hammond wrote this response on his blog:

Governor Bentley is in need of some Bible lessons.  If his statement is true, then Jesus would not have stopped the stoning of the woman caught in adultery because the law must always be obeyed.  If his statement is true, then Jesus would not have healed on the Sabbath because the law must always be obeyed. If his statements are true then the Boston Tea Party in 1773 by the colonists would not have happened because the law must always be obeyed.  If his statements are true, then the Declaration of Independence would never have been written or signed because the law must always be obeyed.

If his statements are true then Alabama’s Governor George Wallace’s statement of “Segregation now, Segregation tomorrow, and Segregation forever” would still be the law of Alabama because the law must always be followed.  Thank God for people of conscience who recognize an unjust law and deliberately disobey to overturn that law.

If his statement is true then Paul, who authored the text that Governor Bentley is referring,  would never have confronted the emperor regarding Christianity because the Christian faith was considered illegal, an act of treason.   So even Paul did not believe one must always obey the law.

This statement of Bentley’s reveals that he has no understanding of his own faith tradition of Christianity.  His own faith as a Baptist came about because people of conscience disobeyed the law.  It was illegal to be of any other faith than Anglican when John Smyth declared his Baptist faith.  But if Governor Bentley is correct that the Bible says you always obey the law, then his own faith is illegal, twice over because John Smyth broke the English law decreeing the Church of England as the one faith and the Church of England broke the law when it severed ties with the Roman Catholic Church over the doctrine of divorce–another law that according to Bentley’s argument must be obeyed.  Remember that church law and civil law were one and the same in the time of the reformation.  There was no separation of church and state.

The context of Romans 13 which Bentley refers also includes Romans 13: 6 and following: This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing.  Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.  The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”

Love does no harm to a neighbor.   No harm.  That is the criteria in which to obey the laws of government, the Bible states. Yet, HB 56 does do harm to our neighbors.  Our Immigrant neighbors are working hard, paying taxes, building up the community, creating businesses which strengthen the economy.  Immigrant neighbors with the same expressed dreams for a better life for their children.  This law seeks to rid our communities of people who are doing no harm, who are loving and caring for their community.  Governor Bentley noted this in his commemoration speech regarding the anniversary of Tornado recovery efforts in Tuscaloosa when he referred to the status of citizenship of those who were first responders.   Governor Bentley loves undocumented people when they are of usefulness to him but otherwise he has disdain for his neighbors who seek to make Tuscaloosa a better place for all to live.

This law has encouraged people to express their bigotry and prejudice against their neighbor.  Therefore any law that causes harm to their neighbor, using Bentley’s argument of always following what the Bible says, is not a law that is to be obeyed.  Such a law must be disobeyed. It must be broken time and time again because it goes against a higher law, which is the law of Love.  I choose to stand on the side of Love.

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Faith Inspires Civil Disobedience over Alabama Anti-Immigrant Bill

May 4, 2012, 11:15 am | Posted by

Faith leaders in Alabama lobbied their legislators to repeal HB 56, the state’s harsh anti-immigrant law, but nobody listened. Then they marched and took to the airwaves but were ignored by those in power. They have testified before the legislature, but their words have fallen on deaf ears.

Inspired by their faith, a group of Alabamians are refusing to give up despite their own elected officials’ intransigence. Yesterday they prayed and sang outside the Senate chamber, blocking the entryway and forcing the Senators to hear their message. Rev. Angie Wright explained:

The purpose was twofold. One purpose was to express moral outrage and opposition to HB 56, Alabama’s inhumane immigration law, and secondly to challenge the Senate to take action and to move through their fear of standing up to the opposition they face.

Watch this powerful witness:

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Cardinal Dolan Blasts GOP Immigration Policy

May 3, 2012, 3:12 pm | Posted by

Cardinal Dolan went on MSNBC’s Jansing and Co. this week to talk about the Catholic Church and politics. In his interview, he issued a bold call for comprehensive immigration reform and a stinging critique of the Republican party’s inhumane and ineffective policies on the issue.

Watch it:

Dolan’s appearance continues the Church’s consistent advocacy around fixing a flawed immigration system that breaks up families and leaves millions of immigrants languishing in the shadows. Catholic bishops have opposed Alabama’s anti-immigrant law in their document on religious liberty and filed an amicus brief against the similar legislation in Arizona being weighed by the Supreme Court. Don’t hold your breath waiting to hear GOP leaders bring that up any time soon.

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