Clergy calls for churches to vote

By Joyell Nevins

April 13, 2014

For the Troy Daily News

CLEVELAND - A coalition of ministers, rabbis and priests across the Buckeye state have gone public in their criticism of recent laws and decisions altering voting procedures in elections and are calling on the religious community to take up the cause of voting rights. The Ohio Faith Leaders’ Moral Declaration on Voting Rights, which recognizes voting as a “civic sacrament, concludes that the actions of the Ohio State legislature, Governor John Kasich and Secretary of State John Husted are either the “result of flawed reasoning” or “thinly veiled voter suppression.”

These measures include reducing the number of days and hours for early voting, limiting the ability of county boards of elections to send out unsolicited absentee ballots, and requiring fewer voting machines at the polls. The declaration points out that “minorities, college students, the elderly, and those with special needs” will be most disadvantaged by the new voting restrictions.

Among the signees is the Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, Jr. a widely regarded minister, preacher and veteran of the civil rights movement. Rev. Moss comments, “The foundation for democracy is the right to vote. When this right is compromised, denied, suppressed or abridged, the very foundation of our nation is impaired and every citizen is wounded. We cannot afford to bring Selma, Alabama of 1965 to Ohio in 2014.”

The declaration commits the clergy to work within their congregations and communities to increase voter registration efforts, educate ex-offenders about their voting rights, mobilize voters to turnout on Election Day, and support the passing of an Ohio Voter Bill of Rights. The campaign for an Ohio Voter Bill of Rights is a grass roots effort to establish a constitutional amendment which would increase voter access across the state’s 88 counties. Among its measures, it would expand early voting, allow for the casting of provisional ballots anywhere in the correct county and call the state to move toward online registration.

The Rev. Dr. Jawanza Karriem Colvin, pastor of Olivet Institutional Baptist Church in Cleveland, drafted the clergy declaration. He believes that the strength of the statement is its aim to see religious groups get engaged beyond the confines of the pulpit and the pew.

“We are drawing on the activist traditions of our faiths. The legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, and Mohandis K. Ghandi and so many others who not only inspire but challenge us to be voices and vehicles of social change.” says Colvin.

For Rabbi Robert Nosanchuk, Senior Rabbi of Anche Chesed Fairmount Temple in Beachwood, Ohio, his faith informs his perspective on what he observes in the limits being placed on early voting.

“Our Jewish faith tradition teaches us that tzedek (“justice”) must be preserved justly. The restrictions proposed by our Secretary of State are inconsistent with that vision. They errantly pursue voter fraud with no proof voter fraud exists. Meanwhile unfair practices will keep people who have been enabled to vote from exercising that right. I am concerned that voting rights are not being fairly and justly dispensed in Ohio.”

The faith leaders will recruit other clergy around the state to join their ranks in the effort to form a broad-based statewide faith coalition that will work to stand against this and future voter restriction efforts.

The Ohio Faith Leaders Moral Declaration on Voting Rights is the result of clergy and community organizing networks across the state. These 30 individuals share a common belief that voting is a democratic right and is as fundamental as the freedom of religion.

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