Friday, January 29, 2016

Join Us for a National Conference Call on the Trans-Pacific Partnership February 3rd!

As people of faith coming from unique traditions, we work towards economic policies that place the dignity and worth of God’s people and all creation at its center. As world leaders gather on February 3rd to sign the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, we ask whether the agreement measures up to what Pope Francis calls an “economy of inclusion.”

The Interfaith Working Group on Trade and Investment invites you to join us for a National Call to Action on the TPP.  We will discuss the agreement’s implication for the environment, for rural communities living on the margins, and for patients seeking affordable access to medications. Hear from experts in these three areas, learn about what you can do, and why this is an issue of faith.

To join the Call to Action, dial 303-248-0285 and enter access code 6017869#

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Member of United Workers to Speak at CPJ Training Day

Register now for Advocacy Training Weekend!
April 15-18 in Washington, DC

We are pleased to announce that a member of United Workers will be speaking at Compassion Peace and Justice Training Day April 15.

"Doreen Hicks has been working since she was nine years old, and has been a leader with United Workers, a human rights organization based in Baltimore, since 2008. She first met UW working as a temp at the Camden Yards stadium, which had recently won a struggle to guarantee the workers there a living wage. Doreen has been elected to the UW Leadership Council, worked as a Summer Organizer in 2010, and is an active part of the Working Matters coalition for Paid Sick Leave."

Stay tuned for more information on speakers and workshops!

Go to our website to register today!
www.pcusa.org/washington

Go to the link below to find out more about United Workers:
http://www.unitedworkers.org

Office of Public Witness Signs on to Letter Urging President Obama to Designate Norther Triangle Countries "Temporary Protected Status"

January 25, 2016
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Obama:

The undersigned 273 civil rights, labor rights, faith-based, immigrant, human rights, humanitarian, and legal service organizations respectfully request that the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in consultation with the Secretary of State, designate El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras (an area known as the “Northern Triangle”) for Temporary Protected Status (TPS). These three countries warrant TPS designation in light of the dramatically escalating violence that has precipitated a humanitarian crisis of refugees fleeing the Northern Triangle countries.
TPS is Grounded in Well-Established, 25-Year-Old Statutory Authority
Using clear statutory authority under section 244 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), the DHS Secretary has currently designated 13 countries for TPS: El Salvador, Guinea, Haiti, Honduras, Liberia, Nepal, Nicaragua, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. Per the statutory requirements of INA section 244(b), these designations are premised on an ongoing armed conflict, environmental disaster, or extraordinary and temporary conditions that prevent nationals of these countries from returning safely. Current designations for El Salvador and Honduras are based on environmental disasters in those countries dating back to 2001 and 1998 respectively, and therefore require TPS beneficiaries from those countries to demonstrate presence and residence in the United States since that time. More recent arrivals are ineligible for TPS.
TPS was created by Congress with the passage of the Immigration Act of 1990 to address gaps in U.S. immigration policy and regularize the process by which our government accommodated those gaps. Congress understood that a stay of deportation and employment authorization are necessary for nationals who are already in the United States but who cannot be deported safely due to temporary conditions in their home countries.
INA section 244(b)(1)(C) provides that the Secretary may base a TPS designation on a finding that “there exist extraordinary and temporary conditions in the foreign state that prevent aliens who are nationals of the state from returning to the state in safety, unless the [Secretary] finds that permitting the aliens to remain temporarily in the United States is contrary to the national interest of the United States.” Each of the Northern Triangle countries clearly meets this criteria given the devastating recent uptick in violence.
Country Conditions in the Northern Triangle Merit TPS Designations
In 2015, the death toll in the Northern Triangle of Central America was 17,500, higher than in all but three zones of ongoing armed conflict: Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria. This death toll was higher than four West African countries struggling with the Boko Haram insurgency and even higher than the death tolls in Somalia, Libya, and South Sudan. Notably, this rapidly escalating violence occurred in a geographic region the size of the state of Oregon and home to just under 30 million people. To put this endemic violence into perspective, Honduras alone had more homicides than the 28 states of the European Union combined in 2014.
The causes of the violence are complex and fueled by lack of government accountability, capture of state institutions by organized crime, impunity and widespread corruption, control of territory by organized criminal groups, brutal militarized law enforcement practices, rampant inequality, and weak democratic governance mechanisms. Unsurprisingly, this violence disproportionately impacts women and children. For the last six years, the Northern Triangle countries have ranked within the world’s top four countries for rates of femicide, while El Salvador and Guatemala have the highest homicide rates in the world among children. The extreme violence is not limited to these groups, but pervades all corners of society and threatens many who return to these countries.
El Salvador
El Salvador, a nation of 6.4 million people, is racked by drug-fueled violence, with entire city neighborhoods controlled by powerful gangs known as maras. El Salvador recently overtook Honduras as the murder capital of the world. Officials recorded 6,657 people murdered in El Salvador in 2015, a 70 percent increase from 2014. The homicide rate of 104 people per 100,000 people is the highest for any country in nearly 20 years. El Salvador's murder rate surged in 2015 due to increasing battles between security forces and the country's two most powerful gangs—the Barrio 18 criminal group and their rivals, the Mara Salvatrucha(MS-13). In August 2015 alone there were 907 murders representing the highest monthly toll since the 1980-1992 civil war. An estimated 75,000 civilians died in El Salvador's 12-year civil war, an average of 6,250 per year of the conflict—a figure below the number of homicides in 2015.
Guatemala
Guatemalans face epidemic levels of violence and a government that is unable and unwilling to protect them. The criminal insurgency by transnational criminal organizations and gangs against the state reflects a serious and pervasive armed conflict within Guatemala. Consequently, levels of violence have soared, making Guatemala’s homicide rate the fifth highest in the world. In 2012, Small Arms Survey ranked Guatemala third in the killings of women worldwide, even rivaling the rates of the country’s 36-year civil war.
Moreover, cumulative environmental disasters have plagued Guatemala including earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes, tropical storms, floods, drought, and landslides. Guatemala has declared a state of public calamity on various occasions and received limited international humanitarian assistance. In 2005, Hurricane Stan caused the death of more than 1,500 people, impacted 500,000 people, and led to $989 million in damages. In 2010, the Pacaya Volcano erupted, scattering volcanic ash and debris across Guatemala City, bringing economic life in the capital of 1.5 million residents to a standstill. Two days later, Tropical Storm Agatha hit, killing 174, injuring 154, affecting close to 400,000 Guatemalans, and causing nearly $1 billion in damage. Agatha also led to the evacuation of 112,000 and displacement of 20,000 Guatemalans. A recent landslide in October 2015 caused additional devastation and the deaths of hundreds. The cumulative loss of infrastructure, harvests—including thousands of hectares of agricultural land—and homes caused extraordinary loss of life and livelihood, with women, children, and indigenous communities at particular risk.
Honduras:
With a homicide rate of 57 per 100,000 people, Honduras suffers 10 times more homicides than the world average and four times the number of homicides than the average country in the Americas. Criminal gangs often target children and young adults for recruitment and to commit crimes. Disturbingly, for young adult males between the ages of 20 and 34, the murder rate in Honduras exceeds 300 per 100,000. Gangs also regularly target girls and women for forced recruitment, sexual harassment, and exploitation. After her visit to Honduras in July 2014, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women noted that violent deaths among women had increased by 263 percent between 2005 and 2013 and that Honduras criminal justice system had a 95 percent rate of impunity for femicide and sexual violence crimes.‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬
There are substantiated reports of Honduran police forming death squads and committing extrajudicial executions in both San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa. The militarization of police in Honduras began in 2013 with often-masked Military Police (PMOP) deployed into some of the more violent sectors of the large cities. These police are at the top of the civilian national police structure (FUSINA), a force mistrusted both by those inside and outside the government because of the high rates of corruption and complicity with organized crime. Nonetheless, the PMOP are an extra-constitutional body and have been implicated in a growing list of abuses, made even harder to address because of a lack of civilian accountability and anonymity. Recently, child advocacy organization Casa Alianza documented that in the last two months, the PMOP were involved in at least six extrajudicial executions of children and youth. Abuses attributed to the PMOP and FUSINA include beatings, harassment of civil rights activists, forced disappearances, sexual assaults, and murders of poor or disadvantaged Hondurans. A February 2014 report by El Heraldo, the leading newspaper, found that over 200 national police were implicated in killings for hire, drug theft, and corruption.
TPS is a Critical Component of a Package of Humanitarian Protection
We welcome the announced expansion of refugee processing abroad for nationals from the Northern Triangle countries who are fleeing persecution and the ability for them to apply for refugee status in a safe, third country in the region. This development is a sorely needed expansion of the Central American Minor (CAM) In-Country Refugee Processing Program, through which certain children from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras are permitted to apply for refugee status from within their home countries. It is incumbent on your Administration, however, that refugee processing represent part of a comprehensive package of protection from harm for those fleeing violence in Central America.
Moreover, these programs are an explicit acknowledgement that country conditions in these countries are steadily worsening, the outflows of mothers and children are driven by severe violence, and safety for many is increasingly elusive. The January 2016 withdrawal of U.S. Peace Corps volunteers from El Salvador—the first time in over 40 years—in addition to the September 2012 withdrawal of volunteers from Honduras, is further evidence that no one is immune to the region’s escalating violence.
The risk of deportation to the Northern Triangle countries is tangible and profound. According to a comprehensive study conducted by social scientist Elizabeth Kennedy at San Diego State University, between January 2014 and September 2015, at least 83 nationals deported to El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala were reported to have been subsequently murdered, with 45 murders in El Salvador, 35 in Honduras, and three in Guatemala.
Designation of a country for TPS should be premised on whether country conditions meet the statutory requirements set by Congress and must not be impacted by unfounded fears of increased refugees arriving at our nation’s border. TPS eligibility is strictly limited to individuals who are physically present in the United States prior to designation. Moreover, outflows from these countries are primarily driven by push factors of extreme violence and persecution, not domestic immigration policy. There is no historical precedent or evidence of additional foreign nationals attempting to enter the United States as a consequence of a TPS designation. Certainly, your Administration has not shied away from taking bold action to exercise its discretionary authority to establish Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals despite critics’ unfounded and speculative allegations that such exercise would drive others to migrate here. Moreover, even a federal court has taken a dim view of the argument that the Administration’s policies allowing undocumented immigrants to remain in the country contribute to future migration.
The asylum system plays a key role in protecting many of those who flee persecution in their home countries. However, despite the high rates of homicide, femicide, and other forms of violence, the overall success rate for Central American asylum seekers in U.S. immigration courts is very low. While due process issues and lack of counsel play a role, the standards for securing asylum are very narrow, require very high levels of corroboration, and many of the reasons that Central American asylum seekers need protection, such as fear of persecution due to opposition to gangs, involve a complicated and evolving area of asylum law.
Given the urgent nature of this request and the risk placed on the lives of those who are deported, we request your timely consideration and prompt reply. If you need additional information or have questions related to this request, please contact Royce Murray, National Immigrant Justice Center, at rmurray@heartlandalliance.org or 312-718-5021.

For a full list of the undersigned, click HERE


Friday, January 22, 2016

Child Nutrition Bill Moves Ahead in Senate

Washington, D.C.–The Office of Public Witness applauds the Senate Agriculture Committee’s passage of the Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act of 2016. This bipartisan bill would reauthorize expired child nutrition programs. 
The Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act of 2016 would streamline summer and after-school meal programs to make it easier to serve meals to kids year-round. The bill allows some states to provide summer EBT (electronic benefit transfer) cards to families in hard-to-reach areas to purchase groceries. It also allows some states to use alternative methods of reaching kids when they are unable to make it to meal sites.
Importantly, the bill does not make cuts to SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) or other anti-poverty programs to pay for these changes. One in five children in the U.S. lives at risk of hunger. For every six low-income children who receive a school lunch, only about half also get a school breakfast. Only one also gets a meal during the summer months. 
Stay tuned for information about how to push your Senators to bring this important bill to the floor for a vote. 

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

PCUSA Office of Public Witness Director Applauds President Obama's Executive Order to Curb Gun Violence


The scriptures remind us of God’s desire for abundant living: “The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." (John 10:10). Abundant living is difficult to achieve in a society where headlines are driven by the slogan “If it bleeds, it leads.” In 2010, the 219th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) approved a policy statement calling for a reduction in  gun violence entitled “Gun Violence and Gospel Values: Mobilizing in Response toGod’s Call".  Since then, the PCUSA Office of Public Witness has vigorously advocated for Congress to act.  But, consistently, in congressional office after congressional office we have been met with statements about the American people’s opposition to any type of gun legislation. Ironically, when I visit many of these same congressional districts, constituents consistently ask, “What is your office doing about gun violence?” I concluded long ago that inaction on this issue is representative of a lack of courage.    

Last night, President Obama demonstrated that abundant living is grounded in a feeling of being safe and secure and that in order to live abundantly we must have the courage to implement its requirements. The President signed an executive order implementing common sense gun laws. His executive order includes:

·      Keeping guns out of the wrong hands by requiring that anyone in the business of selling firearms have a license and run background checks on all purchasers of weapons (this includes online purchases)
·      Making background checks more efficient and bringing an outdated background system into the 21st century
·      Getting more ATF personnel trained, hired, and equipped to investigate and assist with reducing gun violence
·      Offering additional assistance for people with mental illness so that they can get the help that they need (The vast majority gun deaths are a result of suicide)
·      Boosting new technology (smart technology) to improve gun safety

President Obama’s executive actions will likely be challenged in the courts.  But, I am deeply impressed with his courage to stand up for the requirements of abundant living, even at the risk of being misunderstood or maligned.  I pray that we will witness the same courage in state and local communities.  May this bring new energy to constituents who are willing to speak truth in love to power and continue to press for laws to reduce gun violence in the United States - 50,000 gun violence incidents and 312 mass killings in 2015 alone.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness will continue its support of measures to reduce gun violence in the United States. More importantly, we will continue to lift up the prophetic vision of witnessing peace abound – a day when men, women, boys and girls will engage in abundant living and not kill one another anymore.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Senate Workers Get a Raise, Will Push for $15 and a Union


December 15, 2015- Senate workers won a new raise of $14.50 an hour on yesterday.
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness along with other ecumenical/interfaith partners were instrumental in the struggle to increase wages for low wage government contract workers. The Office of Public Witness and other partners advocated for a $15.00 an hour increase. The Senate rules committee signed a new contract that raises wages to 14.50 per hour. 
Reverend Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II commented "We are thankful for the support of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) members who responded to action alerts; contacting their Senators; and advocating for government contract and other low wage workers on the local level." Nelson cited that "the struggle for economic justice on both Capitol Hill and local communities is not over, however the Senate vote on yesterday is a significant step in the right direction. The Church must continue its efforts to stand with the poor. This vote signals that our voice is heard when we are both compassionate and persistent in our efforts to impact social change. We are thankful to God through Jesus Christ that our prophetic voice was heard and workers can celebrate a significant coming of the Lord during this Advent/Christmas Season."

Op-Ed in The Hill "A Gift for Low Wage Capitol Workers"


"A Gift for Low Wage Capitol Workers" 
By Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson II and Rev. Sèkinah Hamlin

December 10, 2015- As America’s lawmakers plan to take time off to enjoy the holidays with their families, we, along with the leaders of other national faith organizations, are committed to remain vigilant of the needs of those they leave behind in Washington, D.C. – the low-wage workers who clean their office buildings and cook their meals. 
These contract workers – who labor diligently inside the U.S. Capitol and Senate – will not get paid time-off to celebrate the holidays with their families.   Scores of these workers will be relying on food stamps to prepare their holiday meals and using Section 8 vouchers to avoid spending Christmas Eve on the streets.
Interestingly, on Dec. 6, our nation marked the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery. Ironically, a significant number of today’s federal contract workers find themselves having to fight to put an end to the financial bondage they are experiencing as a direct result of the low-wages they are receiving, along with the lack of benefits.
During the past year, we have accompanied these federal contract workers as they walked-off their jobs five times to strike for fair and just employment compensation and conditions. 
These fighters for “$15 & a Union” include women like Sontia Bailey, who begins each day working a full-time shift at the U.S. Capitol before making her way to her second job at a fast food restaurant.  Working 70 hours a week to pay the bills puts enormous stress on her body – she recently suffered a miscarriage.   To add insult to injury, Sonita and her fiancé could not  afford to take time to grieve the loss of their child as Sontia had to return to work two days later in order to try to remain current on her bills. 
With the holidays upon us, how should we respond to such suffering in our midst?
The scripture reading that leads us into the holiday season shines a light on the answer.   In Luke 3:7-18, John the Baptist, foretelling Christ’s birth, urges the powerful and privileged to repent from exploiting the people.   The crowd asks him “What then should we do,” how shall we repair and rectify this exploitation?  John replies, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” (Luke 3: 10-12)
John’s message is clear:  We must resist greed and share what we have with those who go without the basic necessities of life. 
Regardless of the holiday messages that flow from Madison Avenue, the most authentic acts of this season involve doing justice and sharing with those in need.  
Acts that are rooted in justice and grounded in sharing serve as good news for impoverished federal contract workers, particularly as they work amid the affluence of wealthy and powerful U.S. senators, and are employed by the Compass Group, a multi-billion dollar multi-national corporation.   
This holiday season we are sending a letter to the CEO of Compass Group asking him to give Sontia and her co-workers the gift of justice.  We are asking that Sontia and all federal contract employees be given an hourly wage of $15 along with fair working conditions and the right to engage in collective bargaining.  As faith leaders, we offer ourselves to serve as mediators who can bring workers and management together to achieve labor peace and fairness.
We know that a majority of the workers have signed cards indicating that they want to form a union and address workplace grievances without resorting to strikes.   Additionally, we know that company executives and many lawmakers share the desire for workplace harmony at the U.S. Capitol. 
By working together, we can bear witness to the true spirit of the holiday season. 
Read Original Op ED HERE

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Faith Leaders Continue to Support Federal Contract Workers in the Struggle for Living Wages and Decent Benefits

The Escalating "Fight for Fifteen" 


Washington, D.C.- On Tuesday December 8th, the Reverend J Herbert Nelson, Director of the Office of Public Witness, joined federal contract workers once again in their struggle for living wages and the right to unionize. Workers from the United States Capitol, Pentagon and other federal landmarks walked off of their jobs to fight poverty pay in an action that escalated their campaign and increased pressure on decision makers. Workers were in the holiday spirit, complete with Santa hats and Grinch costumes, and once again appealed to decision makers to make federal jobs good jobs with living wages and decent benefits.

Reverend Nelson was joined by The Reverend Sekinah Hamlin, Reverend Aundreia Alexander, and Reverend Leslie Copland Tune who led the striking Senate cafeteria workers in prayer as they marched into the Dirksen Senate cafeteria. Once in the cafeteria, the faith leaders presented a letter to the Restaurant Associates management. In this letter, leaders of faith offered to bridge the gap between management and workers, and to act as a third party to count the signed union pledges. The workers and faith leaders then marched to Senator Ted Cruz’s office in order to present him with a Golden Grinch Award for not following through with action on worker’s rights. Senator Cruz has spoken about the need for workers to earn a livable wage, but has not kept his word.

This faith action is a part of an ongoing struggle in the Fight for Fifteen. This past month, Senate staffers have joined in the Fight for Fifteen by participating in the weekly brown bag boycott in support of the Senate cafeteria workers. Faith leaders in Washington D.C. will sustain their support until workers have justice. 




















Below is a copy of the letter the faith leaders presented to Restaurant Associates Management:


Richard John Cousins
CEO, Compass Group
Compass House
Guildford Street
Chertsey
Surrey KT16 9BQ
United Kingdom

Dear Mr. Cousins:

As faith leaders, we believe that there is inherit dignity in work and that workers deserve a seat at the banquet table so they can share in the fruits of their labor.
We have listened to the heart-breaking stories of U.S. Capitol and Senate contract workers – employed by your company – who earn so little that they are forced to sleep on the streets and use food stamps to feed their families. We have witnessed courageous workers willing to walk off their jobs on strike to call for justice and freedom at work. We have prayed with workers and their families so they might be strong in the face of threats and retaliation.

We understand why they are raising their voices to win living wages and a seat at the negotiating table – they seek dignity.
That is why we write to urge you to invite your low-wage workers to the table.
In all of our traditions, the “table” is a sacred symbol – a place where people gather in fellowship, where reconciliation happens, and where abundance is shared. It is a place where all can enjoy dignity.

Mr. Cousins, set a place at the table for your workers. Allow your workers the opportunity to self-organize and speak with one voice. Remove all obstacles in their way by protecting their freedom to associate and by recognizing their union based on a majority of membership cards. By doing so, you can lead by example and send a message to other CEOs – workers should not have to go on strike to have their voices heard.

We stand ready to support you and your workers end this labor dispute and achieve mutual reconciliation. We are available to help monitor a “free and fair organizing” process by mediating a resolution to the strikes and certifying the results of the card count.
The U.S. Capitol is a symbol of inclusion where everyone can have their voices heard. We hope you will to do everything possible to make this symbol real for America’s low-wage workers.


Sincerely,

National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd
NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby
National Council of Churches
Presbyterian Church (USA)
United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries
Ecumenical Poverty Initiative

Office of Public Witness Signs on to Letter Urging Congress to Make the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit Permanent

December 7, 2015


Dear Senator,

The improvements to the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC) that were enacted in 2009 but are scheduled to expire after 2017 are extremely important to millions of working families across the country. The undersigned organizations strongly urge Congress to make them permanent in any tax extenders bill before Congress adjourns.

Media reports indicate that negotiations are underway to extend the business tax breaks that expired earlier this year, and we urge Congress to make the EITC and CTC improvements permanent now, as part of any agreement on these extenders. Not doing so would put these improvements at considerable risk in 2017; there are too many uncertainties in 2017 to count on securing permanent extension of these critical provisions then.

The EITC and CTC are two of the strongest tools we have to help working families make ends meet, escape poverty, and become self-sufficient. Roughly 50 million Americans, including 25 million children, will lose some or all of their tax credits if the EITC and CTC improvements expire. More than 16 million people, including 8 million children, will be pushed into, or deeper into, poverty.

Low-income families cannot afford to lose this critical help to support themselves through work. Congress has a critical opportunity now to protect these highly effective provisions. Should Congress wait until close to their expiration, these provisions may, in fact, expire. Alternatively, securing their extension at the 11th hour as they are about to die in late 2017 could come at a very high price — costly, regressive tax cuts or other harmful policy changes. Waiting could cause the EITC and CTC improvements to essentially be held hostage for other, deleterious policy changes. No other issue affecting so many struggling working families and their children is before Congress in the rest of this session. We urge you to do everything you can to make these vital provisions permanent this year. Thank you for considering our request.




Sincerely,


9to5, National Association of Working Women
Adorers of the Blood of Christ, U.S. Region
African American Health Alliance
Afterschool Alliance
AIDS United
Alliance for a Just Society
Alliance for Strong Families and Communities
American Academy of Pediatrics
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)
Americans for Democratic Action (ADA)
Americans for Tax Fairness
Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs
Association of University Centers on Disabilities
Benedictine Coalition for Responsible Investment
Benedictine Health System
Bread for the World
Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good
Center for Community Change Action
Center for Economic Progress
Center for Global Policy Solutions
Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP)
Center for Public Justice
Center for Rural Strategies
Center for the Study of Social Policy
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
Child and Family Policy Center
Child Care Aware® of America
Child Welfare League of America
Children's Defense Fund
Children's Health Watch
Children's Leadership Council
Citizens for Tax Justice
Coalition on Human Needs
Common Sense Kids Action
Community Action Partnership
Concerned Black Men National
Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED)
Corporation for Supportive Housing
Covenant House International
Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund
Early Care and Education Consortium
Ecumenical Poverty Initiative
Epilepsy Foundation
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Every Child Matters Education Fund
Feeding America
First Focus Campaign for Children
Food Research & Action Center (FRAC)
Foster Family-based Treatment Association
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Generations United
Global Justice Institute
Goodwill Industries International
Interfaith Worker Justice
Islamic Relief USA
Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States
Jewish Council for Public Affairs
Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, AFL-CIO (LCLAA)
Leadership Conference of Women Religious
League of Women Voters of the United States
Lutheran Services in America
Main Street Alliance
Medical Mission Sisters
Metropolitan Community Churches
MomsRising
NAACP
National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd National African American Drug Policy Coalition, Inc.
National Alliance of Children’s Trust & Prevention Funds
National Alliance to End Homelessness
National Association for Bilingual Education (NABE)
National Association for Hispanic Elderly
National Association for Latino Community Asset Builders
National Association for State Mental Health Program Directors (NASMHPD)
National Association of County Human Services Administrators
National Association of Evangelicals
National Association of Social Workers (NASW)
National Center for Law and Economic Justice
National Center on Adoption and Permanency
National Child Support Enforcement Association
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
National Coalition for the Homeless
National Council of Jewish Women
National Council on Independent Living (NCIL)
National Disability Institute
National Domestic Violence Hotline
National Education Association
National Employment Law Project
National Foster Parent Association
National Health Care for the Homeless Council
National Immigration Law Center
National Latino Evangelical Coalition
National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund
National Low Income Housing Coalition
National Military Family Association
National Network to End Domestic Violence
National Resource Center on Domestic Violence
National Urban League
National WIC Association
National Women’s Law Center
NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby
Partnership for America's Children
People Demanding Action
PICO National Network
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A)
Progressive Congress
Public Advocacy for Kids
Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities Coalition
RESULTS
Share Our Strength
Single Stop
Sisters of Charity Federation
Sisters of Charity of Nazareth Congregational Leadership
Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Sisters of Mercy, Institute Justice Team
Sojourners
The Arc of the United States
The Jewish Federations of North America
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
The Office of Social Justice, the Christian Reformed Church in North America
The Salvation Army National Headquarters
The United Methodist Church - General Board of Church and Society
Union for Reform Judaism
United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries
United Way Worldwide
USAction
Voices for Progress
Women's institute for a Secure retirement (WISER)
Young Invincibles
ZERO TO THREE

Office of Public Witness Signs on to Letter Regarding Human Rights Violations by the Israeli Military and the Leahy Law




Instances of probable gross violations of human rights by Israeli military and security forces presented to  U.S. Department of State

December 8, 2015

Washington, DC

Concerned about specific, well-documented instances of probable gross violations of human rights by Israeli military and security forces, eleven churches and faith-based organizations discussed several case summaries at a meeting today with the U.S. Department of State.  Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. foreign military assistance.
The groups said that they were seeking accountability for the observance of human rights in the use of U.S. military assistance as outlined in the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 as amended and several annual Defense Department appropriations acts.  The provisions in these laws are often referred to as the “Leahy Laws” or “Leahy amendments” and, in the case of the Foreign Assistance Act, states “No assistance shall be furnished under this Act or the Arms Export Control Act to any unit of the security forces of a foreign country if the Secretary of State has credible information that such unit has committed a gross violation of human rights.” 

The organizations said that, with the information provided, the Department of State should designate the military units involved as ineligible for foreign assistance.

The groups noted that the cases presented at the meeting are part of a comprehensive project to seek accountability for documented human rights violations by Israeli forces and that further cases will be submitted.

In the context of the documentation they provided the Department of State, the groups also affirmed that they stand unequivocally opposed to all human rights violations by any actor -- state or non-state --  as well as any group or individual that is a party to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The organizations signing a letter accompanying the documents addressed to Mr. Tom Malinowski, Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, and Ambassador Anne W. Patterson, Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, were American Friends Service Committee; Conference of Major Superiors of Men; Friends Committee on National Legislation; Global Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Church of Christ; Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns; Mennonite Central Committee U.S.; Pax Christi International; Pax Christi USA; Presbyterian Church (USA); United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries; and United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society. 

Contact:
Rev. Susan P. Wilder
Faith Forum on Middle East Policy
(703) 598-2503

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Call Your Senators in Support of Sentencing Reform!


The time is Now to Reform Our Criminal Justice System!
Our beliefs direct us to protect the dignity and well-being of everyone impacted by the criminal justice system. That commitment extends to people who are victimized by crime, as well as to those who commit offenses. Current federal law demands harsh punishment for even low-level drug offenses. The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act seeks to restore proportionality and fairness to federal sentencing and aid in rehabilitation for people in prison. Tell your senators to support this bipartisan criminal justice reform legislation. 


Call both of your Senators by calling 202-224-3121 and ask for their office. 
Here is a sample script of what you could say:

"Hi, my name is __________ and, as a Presbyterian, I urge Senator (their name) to support the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act because our criminal justice system badly needs reform and this is an important step in that direction."

Then, call 3 other folks (don't just email them - calls work better!) and urge them to make this same call. This is how movements are built!

This legislation is sponsored by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Mike Lee (R-UT) and a bipartisan group of 25 other Senators. This is a bill that will help reduce extremely long sentences for those awaiting sentencing as well as some of those already incarcerated. This bill will lessen the number of those who are incarcerated in the federal prison population, which has exploded since 1980. The increase in the number of incarcerated individuals is largely due to mandatory minimum penalties, which exacerbate racial disparities and perpetuate dangerous prison overcrowding. Senate Bill 2123 is an important step toward fixing the federal prison crisis.

As Christians, we should prioritize forgiveness, mercy, and reconciliation in our judicial system policies. In 1988, the 200th General Assembly weighed in, saying, “individual Presbyterians and the entities of the General Assembly should . . . advocate a social order where compassion and justice characterize efforts toward those in the criminal justice system.”

J. Herbert Nelson Responds to Shootings In California and Georgia


“Tell Congress not to go home for Christmas until Common Sense Gun Legislation is passed.”
…but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.
Thessalonians 5:21-22 (NRSV)
I am saddened to issue another statement on gun deaths in the United States. My prayers are extended to the families impacted by the Savannah, Georgia and San Bernardino, California mass shootings on yesterday. In Savannah one person was left dead and four injured. Fourteen lives were taken in San Bernardino. 

While law enforcement investigates the senseless deaths, our nation remains trapped in a discussion over access to guns. Today, I am sure that the National Rifle Association (NRA) is searching for the words to spin the reality of this ongoing list of national tragedies. However, there is no adequate spin to comfort those who were told yesterday and everyday in the United States that their loved one was killed by gun violence.

While we attempt to cope with our fears, we arm ourselves with more guns, add locks, to our doors, place cameras and alarms in our homes, and convince ourselves that these devices are enough to keep us safe. Our reality is that none of us are safe. We are all trapped in the malaise of news reports that remind us that we live in an out-of-control gun culture. The biblical name for our obsession with guns is called “idolatry.” Interestingly, the guns we buy to protect ourselves are the objects used to take 30,000 or more lives per year in the United States since 1979.
Once again, I plead with you to assist the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and other faith groups to free our nation from the scourge of gun violence. Call your Congressional Office today and demand that they not go home for Christmas until Common Sense Gun Legislation is passed (1-866-961-4293- Congressional Switchboard).  Let them know that your vote for their reelection will be highly based on how they push to establish Common Sense Gun Legislation in the United States.
Common Sense Gun Legislation will have the following measures outlined below.Demand that they pass Common Sense Gun Legislation before leaving Washington, DC for the holidays;


1. Universal Background Checks for the Purchase of All Guns

2. The reinstatement of the assault weapons ban.
3. The end to all straw purchases of guns. (no one should buy a gun for someone who cannot legally buy a gun for themselves)
4. Closing the gun show loophole
5. Making the trafficking of guns a federal crime (currently gun trafficking carries the same sentence as trafficking poultry)
Commit to vote and contribute only to those elected officials (locally and nationally) who are willing to vote for significant Common Sense gun laws
Our nation is in a crisis! Each of us can make a difference. Our lives depend on it.