The Vote is Sacred. How Faith Communities Can Protect Our Democracy.
Voter suppression is an extreme political and legal strategy that is literally engrained into the very fabric of the rich mosaic that is American democracy. State sanctioned, coordinated, deliberate obstruction and restriction of access to the ballot box is an assault on our most basic rights as American citizens, no matter the color, creed, or religious identity. As people created in the image of God, we behave in a manner that is fundamentally immoral when we prevent fellow citizens from exercising their agency and participating in the democratic process. The denial of the right to vote demonstrates our failure to acknowledge and embrace our shared humanity and is a barrier that prevents us from creating and maintaining a flourishing multi racial democracy.
In his powerful and compelling inaugural address from the well of the United States Senate, the Rev. Senator Raphael Warnock boldly declared, “The vote is a kind of prayer for the kind of world we desire for ourselves and our children. And our prayers are stronger when we pray together.” This statement emphasizes the inherent spiritual and religious dimensions of voting and why diverse religious communities and institutions have a moral and sacred obligation to come together to respond to the egregious voter suppression tactics that continue to grip this nation.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, in 2021 nearly 20 states enacted 30 laws to restrict voting. The Brennan Center also reports that 49 state legislatures have more than 400 bills pending to restrict the right to vote in some capacity. If passed into law, these bills, which disproportionally affect minority communities of color, will have a detrimental impact on the 2022 mid-term elections and the 2024 general elections.
In our nation’s founding documents there is no explicit, guaranteed federally protected right to vote for all citizens. Historically, this has left many marginalized communities susceptible to the widespread dangers of voter suppression. Despite the progress we have made as a society and the 19th and 20th century federal political and legal measures enacted to protect the voting rights of the most vulnerable citizens, this dark legacy of disenfranchisement remains embedded in our civil and political DNA. Reconstruction and Jim Crow era literacy tests, poll taxes, and property requirements have given way to new, pernicious forms of voter suppression like strict voter ID laws, eliminating accessible polling locations, and limiting early and Sunday voting opportunities.
We are nearly one year removed from one of the most divisive and contentious elections in our nation’s history. The 2020 election and the aftermath that lead up to the deadly January 6, 2021, Capitol Hill insurrection, demonstrated just how fragile our democracy is and how extreme our polarization has become. As stewards of this democracy, we must use our greatest strength, religious diversity, to establish moral common ground as we work to reimage a nonpartisan interfaith approach in our pursuit to secure, protect, and expand the right to vote for all Americans. Now is the time for our nation to pursue a shared moral vision of our future that is deeply rooted in our religious values.
The right to vote and the integrity of the vote remain foundational pillars of our democracy. This belief has strong intellectual and ethical roots in many faith traditions. In nearly every faith tradition there are intersections between shared values, civic engagement and the movement to advance, secure and protect the right to vote. In the face of increased, rapid, and escalating disenfranchisement, the development of an effective, inclusive interfaith response that promotes the sacredness of the vote and mobilizes coalitions of interfaith citizens to champion the right to vote as a fundamental right can help fortify our democracy for future generations.
Since the historic election and reelection of President Barack Obama, due in large part to a racially, ethnically and religiously diverse coalition of voters, there has been a national spotlight on the reemergence of voter suppression in this nation. In 2013, in the Shelby County v. Holder decision, the United State Supreme Court gutted the strongest provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, also known as the crown jewel of the civil rights movement. This decision removed a significant portion of federal protection and oversight that limited state sanctioned racially motivated voter discrimination. In many ways, this decision gave states, especially states with a long history of discrimination, the “green light” to enact discriminatory voting laws without the fear of federal intervention. In the 2014 mid-term elections, the first elections after the Shelby decision, thousands of potential voters were turned away due to the new voter suppression laws in states across the South.
The right to vote and the integrity of the vote remain foundational pillars of our democracy.
A common thread of the myriad faith traditions in this nation highlights the right of individual citizens to actively participate in their democracy. With the reemergence of voter suppression in this nation, it is incumbent upon communities of faith to articulate a moral vision to protect the right to vote for all citizens. From Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr marching together from Selma to Montgomery to the courageous example of Mississippi civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, our nation has had a rich history of interfaith involvement around complex social and civil issues. This spirit of interfaith cooperation must serve as blueprint for us today.
IFYC will use this blueprint in the creation of our new program to combat voter suppression entitled, Vote is Sacred. This is a robust, multifaceted, national nonpartisan civic engagement initiative that informs and equips citizens with practical steps to secure the right to vote for all Americans. Essentially, this initiative seeks to spark a national conversation about how voting is rooted in diverse faith traditions and practical ways those traditions can come together to protect our democracy. A significant portion of this initiative will focus on activating the social capital of higher education and faith communities to underscore the centrality of the vote in a religiously diverse, participatory government.
The recording of the first public event of Vote is Sacred, Why Voting is Sacred: An Interfaith Response to Protecting Our Democracy, can be viewed below. This forum featured Sojourners President Adam Russell Taylor, who is launching his new book, "A More Perfect Union: A New Vision for Building the Beloved Community," and will include a diverse array of national faith leaders, public intellectuals, activists, and organizers on why our nation must adopt an inclusive and nonpartisan interfaith approach to restoring and protecting our democracy.
#Interfaith is a self-paced, online learning opportunity designed to equip a new generation of leaders with the awareness and skills to promote interfaith cooperation online. The curriculum is free to Interfaith America readers; please use the scholarship code #Interfaith100. #Interfaith is presented by IFYC in collaboration with ReligionAndPublicLife.org.
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The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.