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In Georgia, religious leaders are calling on business leaders to condemn laws restricting access to the vote – or face a boycott. In Arizona and Texas, clergymen have rallied outside state capitals to denounce what they see as voter suppression measures targeting blacks and Hispanics.
Similar initiatives have been undertaken in Florida, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio and elsewhere as many religious leaders perceive a threat to voting rights that justifies their intervention in a volatile political issue.
“It is part of our tradition as Christians to engage in the public arena,” said Rev. Dr. Eric Ledermann, pastor of University Presbyterian Church in Tempe, Arizona, after the event in outside the Statehouse.
“When people say, ‘Let’s not play politics in the church’ – Jesus was very political,” Ledermann said. “He was engaged in how his culture, his community was shaped and who was left out of the decision-making process.”
Georgia has already enacted legislation with various restrictive voting provisions. More than 350 voting bills are currently under consideration in dozens of other states, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, a public policy think tank. Among the proposals: tightening voter identification requirements, reducing the number of ballot boxes and reducing early voting.
African Methodist Episcopal Bishop Reginald Jackson, who oversees AME churches in Georgia, urged business leaders to do more to fight voting restrictions. So far he’s not happy with the response and says he might call for a boycott of some companies.
In many states, suffrage activism is led by multi-faith coalitions that include Christian, Jewish and Muslim groups. Here is what some of the religious leaders are saying:
Reverend Dr Cassandra Gould, Executive Director of Missouri Faith Voices, for whom the question is “very personal”:
“I’m from Alabama, a small town called Demopolis. It is 47 miles west of Selma, where my mother fought for her rights, went to jail on Bloody Sunday (in 1965). … So these are the stories I grew up with. I never imagined that I would always fight the same fight.
“There is a manual for suppressing votes, reducing the electorate. And we fundamentally believe, as a principle of faith, that it should be broadened so that people are included and not excluded. “
The Rev. Dr Warren H. Stewart, Sr., Senior Pastor of the First Institutional Baptist Church in Phoenix and Chairman of the African American Christian Clergy Coalition in Arizona:
“If you read the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, it talks about justice, about being on the side of the oppressed, the oppressed, the orphans, the poor. And this whole question of voter suppression is about fighting against those who would oppress people of color, the poor, the people who are struggling to be successful in life. It is therefore a question of faith as much as a question of justice. They are not disconnected.
“The reaction of the Republican Party, to the largest number of people who have voted in US history, is that ‘we are going to lose in the future’. So it is very obvious that it is not about responsibility or ethics, but about politics. And that’s unfair, that’s why we’re here.
Reverend Frederick Haynes III, pastor of Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas:
“We have leaders – in the government of Texas – who have in their ideological DNA the same mindset as those slave masters who denied the humanity of black people. The same mindset as those who supported the segregation between Jim and Jane Crow. … Governor (Greg) Abbot and his Republican buddies decided to dress Jim and Jane Crow in a tuxedo of what they call voter integrity, but it’s still Jim and Jane Crow. … You are just trying to create a problem for voters you don’t want to vote.
Reverend Edwin Robinson, organizer of the Dallas Black Clergy:
“No matter which side of the political aisle you are on, any attempt to obstruct the vote is an attempt to deprive us of our greater freedom and liberty. … We should do everything to protect our greatest freedoms – and to ensure that our citizens vote enthusiastically and do so without fear or intimidation.
Reverend Anne Ellsworth, Priest of St. Augustine Episcopal Parish of Tempe:
“I am a pastor in a white congregation. I am a priest in a church, the Episcopal Church, famous for our white, Christian and moderate attitude. … My interest is to awaken knowledge in other white, moderate Christian women who have remained silent or who have felt helpless or who think it does not matter to them. My guiding light is a quote from Martin Luther King: “There are not enough whites who value or cherish democratic principles more than white privilege.” “
“White Christian women know what it is to silence our voices. And we cannot stand idly by while the voices of others are also silenced. We need to recognize our privilege and use it as leverage to fight voter suppression targeting black Americans. “
Rabbi Lydia Medwin of the Atlanta Temple:
“The Jewish community has responded to the call of our African-American brothers and sisters since the beginning of the civil rights era. When our partners and the people we care about tell us, “We are suffering, we are being treated unfairly”, we have no answer but to intervene. “
Rabbi David Segal, Texas organizer for the Religious Action Center for Judaism Reform:
“The backlash against the passage of the legislation by Georgia is actually helping us in Texas because we are able to point it out and organize anger around these laws to try to stop it here. … People of faith are for inclusion and for respect and for acceptance and another kind of justice.
Associated Press writer Jeff Amy in Atlanta contributed to this report.
The Associated Press religious coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment via The Conversation US. The AP is solely responsible for this content.