ELCA Initiative Addresses Voting Rights

As the 2016 election season comes to a conclusion over the next few weeks, it’s timely to note that mainstream Christian churches such as the ELCA are outspoken advocates for voting rights. The following are excerpts from a press release issued by ELCA Headquarters in April, 2016, regarding its recently introduced initiative to promote voting rights and fair elections.

Affirming its commitment to ensure voting rights for all U.S. citizens, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has introduced ELCAvotes, an initiative to help members advocate for fair elections and engage in local efforts to guarantee the right to vote.
            “ELCAvotes is about linking faith, civic engagement and theology in the public square,” said Rozella White, program director, ELCA Young Adult Ministry. “It is our hope to invite more people, especially young adults, into fuller conversation as they live out lives of faith in society.”
ELCAvotes was developed in response to “Voting Rights to All Citizens,” a social policy resolution adopted by the 2013 ELCA Churchwide Assembly. The resolution states that “members, congregations, and synods of this church be encouraged to ‘promote public life worthy of the name’ by speaking out as an advocate and engaging in local efforts such as voter registration and supporting legislation to guarantee the right to vote to all citizens.”

The ministries leading the initiative include ELCA Advocacy, ELCA Racial Justice Ministries and ELCA Young Adult Ministry.

“In this election year filled with divisiveness and at times hateful rhetoric, it is easy to forget that our electoral process exists to ensure all voices are heard in the shaping of our representative democracy,” said Tia Upchurch-Freelove, program director, ELCA Advocacy communications and grassroots outreach. “Voting is one of the most important ways Americans can be involved in our democracy. As part of our ELCAvotes initiative, we will share resources and work together to find ways to ensure all citizens have the right to vote.”

ELCAvotes provides faith-based resources to encourage faithful and non-partisan voter participation and a context for all Lutherans to learn about issues such as economic and racial justice that influence voting rights. The resources also provide tools to help young adults understand what it means to be a young person of faith who is civically engaged and will help equip ethnic communities to talk about race and voting rights and the connection with the election year.

The press release goes on to explain how court decisions and legislation in many jurisdictions have eroded voting rights of many groups over the past few years.  The social policy statement was developed in response to this trend.

“We have to be a church that not only thinks about engagement and has prolific documents on our theological views as they pertain to public life, but we also have to be a church that models active, living, daring faith in Jesus Christ,” said [Rozella] White. “Our faith calls us to action, and this initiative is one way of being a church committed to doing God’s work with our whole being.”
Twitter is where the action is: #ELCAvotes.  Or Google ELCAvotes.


Get Out Of Jail Free?


By Sheila Freed

Lutheran-Episcopal Advocacy in Nevada is proud to be part of a movement that could radically change the justice system in this state.  The proposed changes line up beautifully with the ELCA Social Statement, “The Church and C criminal Justice:  Hearing the Cries” (2013).

James Hardesty, Associate Chief Justice of the Nevada Supreme court, spoke to members of LEAN in May.  Then at the Sierra Pacific Synod Assembly in June, the featured speaker at the LEAN-LOPP Advocacy Breakfast was Washoe County Public Defender Jeremy Bosler.    Justice Hardesty has worked for many years to make the criminal justice system in Nevada fairer and more efficient.  As the Public Defender, Mr. Bosler sees first-hand how the justice system is much harsher on the poor.

Both Mr. Bosler and Justice Hardesty spoke about something lawyers call “pretrial release,” which for most people means making bail.  A person gets arrested and either is able to muster the money to bail out or raise enough to post a portion of the bail and get out on bond.  It goes without saying that the bail system works against those who lack the financial resources to make bail.  Justice Hardesty pointed out that the system also releases the wrong kinds of people.  He used the example of a drug dealer, who can easily raise cash and therefore is back on the street within hours, as against a low-income single parent, who writes a bad check.  When that person must remain in jail, someone must be found to care for children, a job can be lost, and more.  Judge Hardesty reminded the audience that although both the drug dealer and the single parent enjoy the same legal and constitutional presumption of innocence, the negative consequences of arrest fall disproportionately on one.  Mr. Bosler noted that simply remaining in jail for more than a few days actually increases the likelihood that a person will commit another crime.  The reason is that the “pro-social connections” we all have in our daily routines begin to wither.

Many jurisdictions around the country have looked at the bail system and concluded that it isn’t fair.  Furthermore, it doesn’t work.  Justice Hardesty said that the federal courts have concluded that “a money bail system is unconstitutional.”  He cited a little known fact: In Nevada, it can cost a different amount of bail for the same offense, depending on what jurisdiction you’re in.  Washington, D.C., the states of Kentucky and Ohio have all moved to an “evidence-based” pretrial release system.  Their experiences are that if released with no bail, most people appear for court.  In Washington D.C., 92% appear, a higher percentage than with the bail system.

Justice Hardesty and his colleagues on the Supreme Court are now studying how moving to an evidence-based system would work in Nevada.  The key questions a judge must decide are whether the arrestee is a flight risk, and whether he or she is a danger to the community.  If neither is true, release on one’s “own recognizance” is appropriate.  In some cases, a person is neither a flight risk nor a danger to the community, but should not be released unsupervised because they are addicted or mentally ill or otherwise not functioning well.  Judges have authority to release that person with conditions.  So a release with a requirement to go into treatment could be issued.  The justices have reviewed various “assessment tools” used by other courts to determine the best course of action for a particular person.  In July, several courts around Nevada will begin “field testing” the assessment tools.  Washoe and Clark District Courts are among those participating.  At some point, the Supreme Court will issue rules that will standardize pretrial release practices throughout the state.

Judge Hardesty noted that no legislative action will be required to make the change; judges now have discretion to release people on their own recognizance, and often do.  Bail bondsmen are understandably against eliminating bail for most arrestees , and some legislators could try to stop the change because they don’t want to appear “soft on crime.”    Judge Hardesty urged LEAN to participate in the Court’s study and discussion of this topic.  To learn more, go to http://nvcourts.gov/AOC/Committees_and_Commissions/Evidence/Overview/.  For all details, click on “Documents and Forms” to the right.  Parishioners are invited to join the dialog by contacting LEAN Advocate, Rev. Mike Patterson, at mp4675@att.net.


HARDESTYNevada Supreme Court Justice James Hardesty will talk about Judicial reform during two special presentation for parishioners and LEAN Parish Communicators on May 20 and 21, 2106, in both Las Vegas and Reno.

LAS VEGAS: Friday, May 20, 2016, 6:00 p.m.
The Lakes Lutheran Church 8200 West Sahara Avenue, Las Vegas

RENO: Saturday, May 21, 2016, 3:00 p.m.
Faith Lutheran Church 2075 W. 7th Street, Reno

These free events are an opportunity to learn about Justice Hardesty’s proposals for reforming the criminal justice system in Nevada. As a member of the Nevada Commission on the Administration of Justice, Judge Hardesty has worked for many years to bring more justice to the criminal justice system, while making the system more efficient, cost-effective, and transparent.

Judge Hardesty has been an ally of LEAN, and before that LAMN, since the founding of the Commission on Administration of Justice.

For more information, contact LEAN Director, Rev. Mike Patterson, 775-848-2566 or mp4675@att.net.

ELCA Bishop to Muslims: ‘We Stand With You’

As LEAN continually strives to advocate for “the least of us” at the Nevada Legislature, and throughout the year, with the support of our local Lutheran and Episcopal faith communities, we also keep in mind and heart all who fall victim to fear, ignorance and injustice in the world at large. The following open letter by ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton to Muslim-Americans seems a timely and vital reminder of how God and the Holy Spirit work through us in many ways, across any real or perceived cultural or religious divide.

In a Dec. 11 letter to the Muslim-American community, the Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), said, “I am writing on behalf of many Christians in this country who wish to share a word of solidarity, love and hope with you in these difficult days.”

“In our love for you, our Muslim neighbors, we are distressed by the ways in which you are being forced to bear the fears held by many in our nation,” Eaton wrote. “Therefore, we renew our commitment to find even more effective ways to protect and defend you from words and actions that assault your safety and well-being. We believe God calls us to resist what is divisive, discriminatory, xenophobic, racist or violent, and we want you to look to us as allies and friends.”

The full text of the letter follows:

Grace and peace to you. I am writing on behalf of many Christians in this country who wish to share a word of solidarity, love and hope with you in these difficult days.

In this season of Advent, we, your Christian neighbors, are preparing to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who commanded that “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart … [and] you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:30-31, NRSV).

In our love for you, our Muslim neighbors, we are distressed by the ways in which you are being forced to bear the fears held by many in our nation. Therefore, we renew our commitment to find even more effective ways to protect and defend you from words and actions that assault your safety and well-being. We believe God calls us to resist what is divisive, discriminatory, xenophobic, racist or violent, and we want you to look to us as allies and friends.

The global refugee and migrant crisis and the acts of terror committed in this country and around the world are challenges that demand our collective efforts and our common prayers. Therefore, we will seek to stand shoulder to shoulder with you as agents of peace, justice, understanding, welcome and reconciliation for the sake of the world that God so loves.

In this holy season, when we anticipate the light that the darkness cannot overcome (John 1:5, NRSV), we are reminded of God’s gift of life abundant for all. Together with you, we are committed to building a stronger society based on the dignity of each human being, the value of diversity, the holiness of creation and the common good. We pledge our partnership and invite our local communities into continued dialogue and engagement to this end.

You can download a PDF of the letter here.

Arrest The Traffickers, Not the Kids!

This story from the Los Angeles Times reveals a sea change among that city’s law enforcement agencies when it comes to the scourge of sex trafficking. They recognize children caught in this web for what they are — innocent victims, not prostitutes. May this realization take root in every city in America, and lead to true legislative change to rescue, treat and protect all young people involved.

Los Angeles sheriff gets real on sex trafficking