In a joint statement issued roughly a month ago, the National Black Sisters’ Conference pledged their support for the struggle against restrictive voting legislation, an epidemic currently sweeping state legislatures nationwide.
The statement, issued in collaboration with the Leadership Conference of Women Religious on May 5th, came on the heels of the first wave of such bills being put forth.
As of today, more than 20 have been signed into law.
“Our country has a long racist history when it comes to voting,” the sisters said in their statement.
“Violence, rigged literacy tests, property tests, grandfather clauses and more were used to deny people of color access to democracy’s most fundamental right, the right to cast their ballot. That right is under attack once again.”
The sisters did not rely solely on history from previous generations, however, going so far as to cite Pope Francis himself—“Evangelii Gaudium” in particular—in their appeal for support of federal legislation which could help push back against the Republican-led restrictions.
“It is long past time we established national standards for voting to ensure all of us have a voice in decisions that affect our lives and protect our common home,” they said.
The two pieces of Congressional legislation touted in the statement are the For the People Act, which would increase the electorate and curb the influence of seedier financial sources, and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which would directly limit the ability of former Confederate and Jim Crow states to restrict voting rights.
The former act passed the house along partisan lines in March, and is currently in committee in the Senate. The latter has yet to be introduced in the current session of Congress (having faced stringent opposition in the previous), and the sisters’ statement specifically urges both chambers to do so.
Both pieces of legislation would likely be foiled by a filibuster, which Democrats have threatened to eliminate, but as of yet no moves have been made. Senator Joe Manchin, a Catholic, has been pointed to as a key vote in this reform effort, but he has yet to budge on his support for the age-old delay tactic.
Meanwhile, as many see the Church itself—specifically, its conservative laypeople and clergy—as primary factors on the wrong side of the nation’s ongoing upheaval, its Black sisters and their consecrated allies continue to hold the line, “call[ing] out elected officials, at every level, who continue to introduce measures that would return us to the era of Jim Crow.”
“We pledge to oppose them at every turn, and we promise to support legislation that will ensure all people can exercise their precious right to vote.”
Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, in priesthood formation with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).