“If you don’t have the right to vote then you aren’t free,” the Reverend Jennifer Butler, CEO of Washington’s Faith in Public Life, a strategy center for the faith community to promote social justice, told Bloomberg BNA after people of all ages gathered on a muggy Friday morning outside the U.S. Supreme Court.
The gathering, which included a wide range of mostly liberal-leaning religious leaders and their followers, commemorated the nearly four year anniversary of the court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder.
The court held June 25, 2013 that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional. The section, among other requirements, put restrictions in place to prevent voter discrimination in certain, long-identified problem jurisdictions by requiring them to get approval from the federal government before making any changes to voting laws or procedures.
The Supreme Court ruled that the formula that determined which jurisdictions were covered was unconstitutional as it was based on outdated data. Until Congress comes up with a new formula, the “preclearance” provisions to prevent voter discrimination are essentially without effect.
Nearly four years later, religious leaders gathered to lead a Jericho March (or prayer walk asking God for a change) to protest what they termed the continued unlawful suppression of the right to vote, including under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, since the Shelby County v. Holder decision.
As part of the march, the crowd joined in song and prayer. Many people clapped and sang along to “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around,” a well-known civil rights hymn, as a speaker encouraged crowd members to reach out and introduce themselves to others they didn’t know.
The voting rights march was organized by several religious groups including Bend the Arc Jewish Action, a national Jewish political advocacy group; Faith in Public Life, a strategy center for the faith community to promote social justice; and Repairers of the Breach, a non-partisan, religious organization for social justice.
Participants said the diverse assembly of people was prompted by the deep belief among progressive religious leader that voting rights are a moral issue. One speaker quoted Pope Francis on the idea that “a good catholic meddles in politics.”
"The very principle of voting rights is under attack," said Rabbi Jason Kimelman-Block, director of Bend the Arc Jewish Action. This was one of the many sentiments repeatedly expressed by the religious leaders who told those in attendance to resist institutional racism by getting out and advocating for their rights regardless of race, religion, or sexual orientation.
The Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II of the Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, N.C., offered his perspective on how voting rights problems are not limited to one particular administration or president.
“If Trump was removed tomorrow the fight would not be over," Barber said, stressing the importance of advocating for the right to vote. He went on to call for nonviolent disruption to bring about change.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) along with Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.), Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and other lawmakers held a public event earlier in the week to similarly speak out on the importance of restoring voting rights and combatting still-existing voter suppression tactics.
Pelosi said the “sacred right” of voting is not a “racial entitlement” and told attendees that the right to vote must be fought for daily. Her hope, Pelosi said, is that Congress will update the formula so that the anti-discrimination provisions of Section 4 of The Voting Rights Act will soon be put into place.
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