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April 28, 2016

Criminal Justice Reform – One Step at a Time

By Ford Rowan

The Maryland General Assembly has voted to approve a sweeping criminal justice reform bill, the Justice Reinvestment Act. It will result in thousands of non-violent offenders being released; most of these inmates are low-level drug offenders.

A large number of religious groups – including our Disciples Center for Public Witness – have urged passage of this legislation. Reform is long overdue. Maryland’s draconian mandatory sentences for drug offenses have swelled the prison population and contributed to the mass incarceration of African-Americans.

The new law will result in millions of dollars of savings in correctional costs. These moneys are earmarked to pay for the kind of services that will help keep ex-offenders from re-offending: addiction recovery programs, mental health care, transitional housing, job training and employment assistance.

April 26, 2016

This Week On State of Belief

On this episode of State of Belief, Interfaith Alliance’s weekly radio show and podcast, Rev. Welton Gaddey will discuss the dangerous affects of state laws that let parents make critical decisions to deny their child’s medical care under the guise of “religious freedom.” We’ll then talk with a campaign veteran about important issues around the election we may be missing – or refusing to listen to. Finally, as this episode falls during Passover, Welton will speak with Rabbi Brad Hirscfeld about the lessons we can all learn from the holiday.

Department of Justice to Launch Inaugural National Reentry Week

As part of the Obama Administration’s commitment to strengthening the criminal justice system, the Department of Justice designated the week of April 24-30, 2016, as National Reentry Week. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro will travel to Philadelphia on MONDAY, APRIL 25, 2016, to hold events as part of National Reentry Week with public housing advocates, legal services providers and community leaders where they will announce new efforts to improve outcomes for justice-involved individuals including youth.

Later in the week, the Attorney General will visit a Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) facility in Talladega, Alabama, to highlight reentry programs in prison. Similarly, Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates will visit a federal women’s prison in Texas and will later hold a media availability at Santa Maria Hostel, a specialized residential substance abuse, mental health and trauma facility. Acting Director Thomas Kane of the Bureau of Prisons will accompany both Attorney General Lynch and Deputy Attorney General Yates on their visits.

Announcing the DPF 2016 Peace Interns

The 2016 Peace Interns will begin their work with a training week in Indianapolis on June 1st. They will then spend the summer traveling throughout the church, serving at camps and conferences as counselors and teaching youth people about peace & justice. They will be present at the summer gatherings of the National Convocation, NAPAD, and Obra Hispana, as well as National Youth Event.

We have another exciting announcement coming out in a couple days about two additional partner interns, so watch for more information!

April 21, 2016

Pray for Creation Justice on Earth Day

Pray for Creation Justice on Earth Day

The Disciples Center for Public Witness is joining Creation Justice Ministries for a call to prayer on April 22 at noon local time.

Dear Disciples Justice Advocate, 

Today is Earth Day, and representatives from many countries will gather at the United Nations in New York. They plan to sign the historic Paris Agreement, which was made at the December 2015 COP 21 international climate negotiations. The United Nations will continue to accept signatures to the Paris Agreement through April 2017. Countries will need to adopt the agreement within their own legal systems, through ratification, acceptance, approval or accession. The agreement will enter into force when joined by at least 55 countries, which together represent at least 55% of global emissions. 

While in many ways our work is just beginning, tomorrow's signing ceremony is a reason for the Creation Justice community to celebrate. We have contributed to this moment.

April 9, 2016

The Washington Interfaith Staff Community (WISC) met for its annual planning retreat last week at National City Christian Church in Washington, DC. More than 80 faithful advocates representing a wide range of interfaith justice groups met to discuss advocacy successes from 2015 and plan ahead for 2016. Last week's retreat gave special attention to Islamophobia in the United States, the toxic rhetoric and violence we are witnessing in the current campaign cycle, and what these realities mean for our work as peacemakers and people of faith.

The Disciples Center for Public Witness actively participates in many of the WISC working groups on a variety of social justice concerns. Working in a richly ecumenical and interfaith context helps to coordinate our organizing and advocacy strategy and to amplify our message on Capitol Hill. Our recent efforts have been particularly focused on anti-racism, anti-poverty, anti-torture, worker rights, immigration reform, criminal justice reform, health care, and care for God's creation. We also prioritize issues related to both religious liberty and public education.

"Injustice Anywhere" Documentary

Following the fatal shooting of young adult Michael Brown on August 9, 2014, by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, several Disciples clergy and laypersons joined many others in community responses for justice in Ferguson and beyond. In cooperation with other Disciples, the National Benevolent Association (NBA) has supported efforts for justice and racial reconciliation in the St. Louis area by promoting and facilitating conversation, gathering, advocacy, and healing.

This documentary, Injustice Anywhere, arose in the midst of collective conversations and work of several expressions of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), including key activist clergy and laypersons in the St. Louis area; the Christian Church of Mid-America; the Office of the General Minister and President; Reconciliation Ministry; Week of Compassion; Higher Education and Leadership Ministries; the National Convocation; and the National Benevolent Association (NBA), as well as Metropolitan Congregations United.

TAKE ACTION: Tell the Senate to Stop Poisoning Now

“I paid my taxes, and paid an awful lot for water, and they poisoned my child through the water.”

That's a quote from Luke Waid, a laid-off aerospace worker in Flint, Michigan, who was threatened that Child Protective Services would take away his baby daughter Sophia because she had high blood lead levels. That was before officials realized Flint's water supply was contaminated with lead. Mr. Waid is now suing Flint and Michigan officials, at least to assure that Sophia's medical bills will be covered.

Families in Flint, MI continue to use bottled water for cooking, bathing, and drinking. The Senate left for a two-week recess without acting to provide funding and loan guarantees towards fixing the pipes and public health measures.

The Senate will be back on Monday, April 11. Please tell your Senators to pass the Drinking Water Safety and Infrastructure Act. (Please send this easy click-and-send email right now - before you get distracted by a million other things.)

TAKE ACTION: Join our friends at NETWORK and Show Your #TaxpayerPride

There are many great things that taxes pay for, and we at NETWORK are ready to show our #TaxpayerPride. We know that when we all come together and pay our fair share, our communities are healthier, happier, safer, and stronger.

As April 15 approaches, reflect on what you are proud to pay for and take a picture with what gives you #TaxpayerPride. Need inspiration? Check out the photos people took last year.

Religious Leaders Support $15 an Hour Minimum Wage

As the nationally syndicated Religious News Service reported, the interfaith coalition issued the statement “on the anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. … and amid growing momentum for a wage hike and just days after state officials of New York and California acted to increase their minimum wage to $15 an hour.”

“This movement continues to build,” The Washington Post observed, “with faith leaders pressing presidential candidates to pledge to ‘issue an executive order to make sure taxpayer dollars reward ‘model employers’ that pay a living wage of at least $15 an hour, provide decent benefits and allow workers to organize without retaliation’.”

Ecumenical Advocacy Days Announces Congressional Lobby Day “Ask”

Ecumenical Advocacy Days for Global Peace with Justice (EAD) announced the 2016 Congressional Lobby Day "ask" that participants of EAD's national gathering will take to Capital Hill. The gathering will take place on April 15-18 and is titled, "Lift Every Voice! Racism, Class and Power." The Congressional Lobby Day will take place on Monday, April 18, following a morning rally on the Capitol grounds .

The "ask" focuses on two legislative issues before Congress: The Voting Rights Act and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement.

"In an national election year where we are seeing attempts at voter suppression and fraud, and where we are hearing much debate about the TPP from presidential candidates, it is crucial for people of faith to witness and speak out about these two justice issues," said Douglas Grace, director of EAD. "Once again, EAD is at the forefront of timely national debate and legislative concern, and we have secured top nationally known speakers to address our concerns at the gathering."

Reducing Achievement Gaps in Pre-K

Educational achievement gaps based on race, ethnicity, and income start early and increase exponentially over time. Unfortunately, many children of color and children from low-income families enter kindergarten without the academic skills and resources that they need to succeed.

A new report from the Center for American Progress explains how a high-quality universal pre-kindergarten program could help reduce achievement gaps for young children nationwide. The report notes that educational disparities due to differing socioeconomic backgrounds are stark: African American, Hispanic, and low-income children are less likely to access center-based early childhood education than their white and more affluent peers. Moreover, the quality of most early education programs attended by low-income children of color is not high enough to substantially improve academic readiness. “These achievement gaps are concerning: Math and reading abilities at kindergarten entry are powerful predictors of later school success, and children who enter kindergarten already behind are unlikely to catch up,” the authors explain.

Faith communities and people of conscience are especially concerned with improving opportunities for all children in education—and beyond. We hope that this resource is helpful for you in your ongoing efforts to build more equitable communities.

Palestinian President Affirms the Continuing Possibility of Peace

The Palestinian Authority president reached out to Israel on Thursday, saying he opposes near-daily Palestinian attacks on Israelis and suggesting the violence would stop if the defunct peace process were to resume.

Israel has accused Mahmoud Abbas of failing to condemn the wave of Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians and security forces that erupted in mid-September, and says his PA hierarchy presides over incitement to violence against Israel.

The attacks, mostly stabbings but also shootings and car-ramming assaults, have killed 28 Israelis and two Americans. Over the same time, at least 188 Palestinians have died by Israeli fire. Israel says most were attackers, and the rest died in clashes with security forces.

For the full article, originally posted to Times of Israel, click here.

There's a $2 Trillion GDP Boost in Shrinking the U.S. Gender Gap

By Laura Colby

Improving gender equality would add at least $2.1 trillion to U.S. gross domestic product by 2025, according to a McKinsey Global Institute study, a boost roughly the size of the Texas economy.

“We were surprised that there was such a large economic opportunity still at stake” because the U.S. is a relative leader in gender parity, said Kweilin Ellingrud, a McKinsey partner and author of the study. The consulting firm in September said the global economy would gain $28 trillion in GDP with full gender equality.

While completely erasing the gender gap would add $4.3 trillion to U.S. GDP, Ellingrud said the $2.1 trillion represents more realistic progress. The smaller figure assumes each U.S. state improves at the same rate as the most-improved state in the previous 10 years. The study looked at 10 indicators, from the number of women in managerial and technical jobs to political leadership to violence against women. For the full story from Bloomberg, click here.

Special Report: School District Takeovers - Bad for Students, Bad for Democracy

By John H. Jackson, President & CEO, Schott Foundation for Public Education

Concerns about the importance and need to mobilize Black and Latino voters in 2016 and future elections have reached a fever pitch. But in many states and cities there are counterproductive disenfranchisement actions being taken that disempower Black and Latino communities -- the takeover of their public schools. In this attack on democracy, governance by locally elected school boards is stripped away altogether. This dismantling of democracy in predominantly poor communities and communities of color is now underway, or being proposed, in several states. Denying these citizens' right to elect local school boards through state takeovers or mayoral control should sound the same alarm as denying them the vote because the impact of the action minimizes their democratic voice and vote.

The American public school system has long played a role in maintaining and strengthening our democracy. In public schools, students often learn how to become productive and engaged citizens; schools provide an infrastructure to build healthy living and learning communities; and society benefits from the substantial public good of having an educated citizenry. For these reasons parents and citizens elect local school representatives who will advance their community's unique perspectives; it is a vital opportunity to engage in the democratic process.

San Juan Archbishop Releases Statement and Calls for Prayers for Congress

As Congressional negotiations intensify around solutions to Puerto Rico's financial crisis, the island's Catholic Archbishop, Roberto Octavio González Nieves, O.F.M. releases the following statement:

"I invite the people of Puerto Rico and all people of faith around the world to join me and pray for the US House of Representatives as they consider action around Puerto Rico.

"We also must pray for Puerto Rico's leaders and creditors to work together to find a solution to the crisis that protects the rights and dignity of all sides.

"Finally we pray that any solutions will ensure that the debt is brought to payable levels, without further sacrifice to our social services. We pray that any solution seeks to reduce child poverty on the island and invest in our people. We pray solutions respect Puerto Rico's democracy." 
‎
Eric LeCompte, sovereign debt expert and executive director of the religious development group Jubilee USA, releases the follow‎ing statement:

This Week On State of Belief

Over the last few months, we haven’t been silent on State of Belief, Interfaith Alliance’s weekly radio show and podcast, about our concern over anti-refugee sentiment and misguided, anti-LGBT ‘Religious Freedom Restoration Acts,’ but this week we take those issues head on. We’ll hear from Elizabeth Gill about the ACLU’s lawsuit against North Carolina’s anti-LGBT law. We’ll talk to Dr. Robert P. Jones, PRRI’s President, about public opinion toward immigration; and Professor Phil Zuckerman will look at the growing number of religiously-unaffiliated Americans.

An Unprecedented Legislative “Achievement”


This week, North Carolina lawmakers moved to pass some the most stringent limitations on LGBT equality in the nation. In response to this devastating development, the Americans Civil Liberties Union partnered with Lambda Legal and Equality North Carolina to file a lawsuit against this legislation. We’ll hear from Elizabeth Gill, senior staff attorney with the ACLU, about what makes North Carolina HB2 an unprecedented attack against civil liberties – and local control, as well as the ACLU’s ongoing work to challenge discrimination, disguised as religious freedom, in many other states.

Do Americans even want a ‘wall’?


This campaign cycle has seemed to focus on immigration more than ever. The Public Religion Research Institute has just released a report addressing Americans’ true views on immigration, terrorism and refugees. Dr. Robert P. Jones, President of PRRI, will break down the report called How Americans View Immigrants and What They Want from Immigration Reform. We’ll look at the most notable findings and how demographics and religious affiliation affect views toward immigration.

Understanding the Nonreligious

Phil Zuckerman is a professor of sociology and secular studies at Pitzer College. Phil will sit down with Rev. Welton Gaddy to discuss his work as co-author of The Nonreligious: Understanding Secular People and Societies. He will talk about why it’s essential to understand the reasons for, and impact of, the ever-growing population of religious “nones.”

They Break It? You Buy It.


The South Carolina state legislature is currently considering a bill holding any religious group that sponsors refugees legally liable for any misdeed by any one of those refugees. Interfaith Alliance President Rabbi Jack Moline wraps up our show with a guest commentary on why this move constitutes a grave threat to true religious liberty.

Summer Conference to Put Nutrition on Center Stage

By Bryana Braxton

This August will see the return of the Summer Olympics. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil will play host.

Behind all of the displays of athleticism at the games are years of intensive training. An important part of the training for world-class athletes is eating well and getting proper nutrition to build strong muscles and stamina.

Nutrition is a pathway to a healthy, active life for anybody, athlete or not. But it’s still fitting that an international conference on nutrition will be a precursor to the Olympics.

UPCOMING WEBINAR: Learn Where Your Tax Dollars Are Going

Tax Day is right around the corner. Do you know how your tax dollars are spent? Join National Priorities Project for this free webinar to see a breakdown of how the federal government spent each of your income tax dollars last year. You'll also learn several key things you should know about Tax Day, including: how tax dollars come back to your community, how much individuals and corporations contribute to the federal government, and how key tax breaks benefit the wealthy, corporations, and working families.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016 at 2:00 pm Eastern Time (ET)

Click here to register.

EDITORIAL: A Campaign to Broaden Prosperity

By James Abro

2017 will mark the 50th anniversary of the Poor People’s Campaign. As you may recall, the campaign was conceived by Dr. Martin Luther King in 1967 at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. It evolved into a movement to bring together a diverse amalgam of the poor – Whites, Blacks, Hispanics and American Indians – in a common goal of achieving economic equality. King was assassinated the year after the campaign was launched.

We have unfinished business.

I propose that those of us who will be involved in planning, organizing and participating in events commemorating this significant historical milestone start creating a narrative for it now.