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Ahead of pivotal Supreme Court case, Black Catholics release new voting rights statement

Ahead of a Supreme Court case on gerrymandering, Catholic leaders are speaking out against "White Christian nationalism" and the gradual dismantling of the Voting Rights Act.

(Faith in Public Life)

WASHINGTON — Ahead of pivotal midterm elections, a number of prominent Black Catholics have co-authored a new statement condemning voter suppression in the United States, alongside a call to oppose resurgent “White Christian nationalism.”

Released in the form of an online petition last month by Faith in Public Life (FIPL), it has gained nearly 600 signatures as of Tuesday morning and includes among its contributors the National Black Sisters’ Conference, the Sisters of Mercy, the Association of U.S. Catholic Priests, and Pax Christi USA, among others.

“Testimony and evidence from Congressional hearings on the violent insurrection against our country last January 6th have only strengthened our urgency to confront attacks against the principle that voters choose our leaders in free and peaceful elections,” it reads.

“We are increasingly alarmed by the signs of the times.”

The statement also counts among its authors Fr Bryan Massingale of Fordham University, a nationally known lecturer, author, and the sitting president of the Society of Christian Ethics.

“As a Black Catholic and an American, I believe we dishonor the legacy of courageous activists and faith leaders who were beaten and often killed fighting for the sacred right to vote when we fail to challenge those undermining our democracy today,” he said.

“I urge our bishops, my fellow priests and all Catholics to speak out more boldly.”

While some Catholic clergy, including a number of prelates, have spoken out against Republican efforts to restrict voting rights since the election of President Joe Biden in November 2020, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops last spoke on the issue in June 2021, when two chairmen issued a letter to Congress in support of pending Democrat-led legislation.

The Brennan Center reported in May of this year that lawmakers in a number of Southern and Southwestern states have continued to pass problematic legislation since January, including a number of “election interference” laws spanning the political spectrum.

At least two of the states that have passed such laws, including Arizona and Florida, are led by Catholic governors who have repeatedly made headlines for discriminatory actions against their state’s poorest and most diverse constituencies.

“These laws disproportionately impact Black and Brown citizens—a shameful echo of our country’s ugly history of racial discrimination,” the FIPL statement notes, citing Pope Francis’ words earlier this year saying that “democracy requires participation and involvement on the part of all.”

The statement also notes that the Supreme Court, which recently reversed several dictates of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and began its annual term this week, has before it Merrill v. Milligan, a case concerning the creation of local voting districts (a matter routinely handled by the ruling party in a given state). Oral arguments began therein on Tuesday.

Ahead of the case, the practice of gerrymandering, often used to dilute the voting power of minorities, has come under increased fire. It could soon be restricted by the heavily Catholic (and heavily conservative) high court—or given the green light.

As the matter goes before the judges, the Catholic leaders in their new voting rights statement say unity across barriers is key.

“We are proud to stand with our partners in confronting the growing threats to our multi-faith, multiracial democracy,” said Joan F. Neal, appointed in 2021 as NETWORK Lobby’s first Black deputy executive director.

“As people who believe we are all created in the image and likeness of God, all Catholics must come together to protect our democracy at this critical time.”

Correction 10/4: A previous version of this story stated that certain Catholic leaders signed onto the statement organized by Faith in Public Life. The statement is in fact authored by the Catholic leaders mentioned. 

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, a seminarian with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).

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