Faith leaders join legislators in call for for Senate and Biden to support voting rights legislation
by Rich Copley | Presbyterian News Service
LEXINGTON, Kentucky — On Thursday morning, The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness (OPW) on Capitol Hill hosted members of the Texas Legislature who left the state last month to block passage of restrictive voting laws.
The visit preceded a press conference on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court with faith leaders, legislators, and leaders of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival calling on President Joe Biden and the United States Senate to support and pass legislation that would thwart voter suppression efforts in Texas and many other states and ensure free and fair elections. After speaking, the group hosted by OPW went to the U.S. Senate to deliver their demands.
“It was a brilliant move on their part to leave the state to prevent the passage of legislation they considered immoral,” the Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, Associate Director of Advocacy for the PC(USA) and coordinator of OPW, said of the legislators’ move, which prevented the chamber from having a quorum to vote. “It demonstrates tremendous courage on their part because the voters will eventually decide whether they agree or disagree with their actions. The voting legislation they are opposing is voter suppression as it makes it harder to vote.”
Hawkins said OPW was hosting the Texas delegation and providing it office space at the request of the Poor People’s Campaign.
“This was the 57 of us who are sick and tired of being sick and tired,” Rep. Jasmine Crockett (Texas House District 100) said, stepping up to the microphone. The Democratic representative described a session of being “abused” by the Republican majority on issues including gun control and reproductive rights and said the voting legislation was the last straw.
“We walked out,” Crockett said. “We came to the nation’s capital. We didn’t just say we were leaving to kill a bill. We came and we decided to be productive. We came, and we decided to put pressure in the only place that pressure mattered, which was right here in D.C.”
The legislation in question includes new restrictions on early and mail-in voting, distribution of polling places, rules for removing people from voter rolls, and allowances for partisan poll watchers. It mirrors legislation that has been rolling out in state legislatures across the country, including rules that would allow legislators to overturn election results certified by election boards. The efforts are seen by many, including those participating in Thursday’s event, as an effort to suppress the votes of people in marginalized communities and a direct assault on democracy in the United States.
Supporters of the legislation say they are trying to protect the integrity of elections by regulating practices that lead to election fraud, though claims that practices such as early voting and mail-in voting leading to fraud have been widely debunked.
“The charge of voter fraud is nonexistent and there is no reasonable rationale for the actions of the majority party to attempt to pass laws which restrict the ability of citizens to cast ballots,” Hawkins said. “It is telling that racial-ethnic residents are the most impacted.”
Leaders from several mainline denominations, including the United Church of Christ and the Unitarian Universalist Church, spoke at the press conference.
“Jesus hated more than anything, really just one thing, and that was hypocrisy and abuse of power for those who held it,” said the Rt. Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington. “Those who are entrusted with power are given such privilege and responsibility. We should go to bed each night quaking in our beds for the responsibilities that we hold.
“And I call upon those who have power to recognize that truth is coming, coming to take this down, and you will not be spared the judgment of history and the judgment of your people. And we will not let this go down on our watch.”
This week, the Texas Supreme Court upheld an order from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott calling for the arrest of legislators who left to prevent quorums and compel them to return to the chamber.
“If to protect the sanctity of our democracy is a crime, then lock us up!” Rep. Carl Sherman (Texas House District 109) said to loud cheers.
While the bulk of the press conference’s anger was directed at Texas Republicans, there was also frustration with Democrats in the U.S. Senate and President Joe Biden who have declined to support abolishing the filibuster, which is needed to pass pending voting rights legislation before the evenly divided Senate. The Senate requires a 60-vote majority for most legislation. Supporters of the rule say it compels legislators to reach bipartisan decisions, while detractors contend it is a tool to establish minority rule and has often been used to discriminate against marginalized communities.
“We have the majority,” Crockett said. “The House. We have the Senate. And we have the President. So, we’re thinking, ‘Oh, man, you know, they’re doing so bad in Texas with their majority. Surely, this is where we will get the results that we need,’ not just protections for those in Georgia, those in Florida, those in Arizona, and those throughout this country.
“Sadly enough, no matter what we’ve done, we have given them that baton, and for whatever reason they can’t finish this race.”
Hawkins said the PC(USA) doesn’t have a policy on the filibuster. But he pointed to two Presbyterian policies that do support the calls for voting rights:
- Lift Every Voice, approved at the 218th General Assembly in 2008, which includes a 2016 update to counter voter suppression
- Election Protection & Integrity in Campaign Finance, approved at the 222nd General Assembly in 2016
Speakers admitted the fight for voting rights legislation faces long odds but added there is a long history of taking on hard fights and ultimately winning in civil rights and faith.
Opening the press event, Poor People’s Campaign co-founder the Rev. Dr. William Barber II said that what is happening in Texas is a “canary in the coal mine” for similar efforts around the country and said, “Every crucifixion requires a moral witness.”
Further PC(USA) voting rights resources:
- We Shall not be Moved: Advocacy in the New Age of Voter Suppression (Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) – Resources – Voter Suppression Discussion Guide (pcusa.org).
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Categories: Advocacy & Social Justice, Peace & Justice
Tags: election protection & integrity in campaign finance, lift every voice: democracy voting rights and electoral reform, office of public witness, Rep. Carl Sherman, rep. jasmine crockett, rev dr liz theoharis, rev. dr. william barber ii, rev. jimmie hawkiins, Rt. Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, texas legislature, the poor people's campaign: a national call for moral revival, voter suppression, voting rights, we shall not be moved: advocacy in the new age of voter suppression
Ministries: Compassion, Peace and Justice, Office of Public Witness