Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Still No Justice for Freddie Gray

A Statement from Reverend Dr. J Herbert Nelson on the 
Trial of Freddie Gray Arresting Officer, Edward Nero

May 25, 2016

ON Monday, Officer Edward Nero of the Baltimore Police Department was acquitted on all charges for his role in the unnecessary death of Freddie Gray. Gray died April 19, 2015, from injuries he suffered while handcuffed and shackled but left unrestrained in the back of a police transport van.
State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby brought charges to the six officers responsible for Gray's death, however it is apparent that bringing charges does not guarantee justice. Of the officers being tried, two have not been convicted -Officer Nero and Officer William Porter, who is being retried. 

It is our hope that in the remaining trials, those officers responsible for Freddie Gray’s mistreatment and tragic death will be held responsible. To the family of Freddie Gray, I offer my deepest sympathies. No family should have to suffer the agony of losing a loved one to unnecessary violence.

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says.  And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them?” Luke 18:7-8 NRSV

We continue to raise our voices in a cry for justice from our courts, and we call the church to pray that God will give us the courage and strength to have honest conversations about race where we live, work, and worship.

We must be clear that a single trial will not repair the great breach in the fabric of our society rendered by the sin of racism. However, many African American communities have lost faith in our justice system to honor the lives of their sons and daughters, and each court case represents an opportunity to rebuild that trust.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Stated Clerk Joins Faith Leaders' Letter in Support of a Just Peace in Colombia

 Dear President Obama and Members of the U.S. Congress:

We write to you as leaders of religious communities and faith-based organizations who share a common hope a just peace for all Colombian people.

We are greatly encouraged by the advances in negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrillas. Although points remain on the agenda, we are hopeful an accord will be reached which can help to end this brutal conflict. We appreciate that many representative victims of the conflict have had the chance to present their views to the negotiating table and encourage both parties to ensure that the voices of the collective organizations of Afro-Colombian and indigenous people are also heard.

We write in support of our Colombian partners as they begin repairing a social fabric that has been torn apart by half a century of war that saw more than 6 million people displaced, over 25,000 disappeared, and more than 220,000 people killed, over eighty percent of whom were civilians.

We welcome the recent decision of the Colombian government to engage with the remaining major guerrilla group in Colombia, the National Liberation Army (ELN), a step which Colombian churches and faith groups have long supported in order for peace to take hold throughout the country. We are grateful for the strong support the Obama Administration has given to the peace process with the FARC, and encourage the same support for negotiations with the ELN.

Over the next several years, it will be critical for U.S. policy makers to monitor the peace accords and exert diplomatic, political, and public pressure to ensure their full implementation. We strongly encourage a substantial “Peace Colombia” aid package this year, and for the next several years, to support peace accord implementation. This must be robust and rights-respecting aid which recognizes that “post-accord” does not mean “post-conflict.” There are real risks that the human rights violations committed during the conflict will continue as the accords are implemented. The United States should encourage the Colombian government to investigate and prosecute paramilitary successor groups who continue to threaten and harm communities and our civil society partners.

Further, the United States should redirect assistance for the Colombian armed forces towards programs that will support the implementation of the peace agreement. Assistance should include strong support to civil society and United Nations agencies to monitor and verify the implementation of the accord, including to the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia.

Finally, the U.S. should be a partner in supporting the efforts of Colombian civil society organizations to foster truth, justice and reconciliation, and to build peace from the ground up. This must include strengthening the voice and capacity of Afro-Colombian people, indigenous populations and women, who have been disproportionately harmed by the conflict but whose voices are too often ignored.

As one Colombian indigenous leader expressed, echoing a sentiment shared by many Colombians, “We have not lived a single day of peace...we want to give our children a chance to live in a country at peace.” Only a peace accord which includes the participation of victims of the conflict and is fully implemented can stop this brutal war and help achieve the vibrant and inclusive democracy that all Colombians deserve. Our country can make the choice to stand with Colombia to take on the challenging but rewarding work of building peace from the ground up. As persons of faith, we call on our government to support the efforts of the Colombian people to build a just and lasting peace.

Rev. Alan Robinson
National Director, Brethren in Christ Church U.S.

Dr. Eli McCarthy
Director of Justice and Peace, Conference of Major Superiors of Men

Mr. Christopher Hale
Executive Director, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good

Rev. Dr. Sharon E. Watkins
General Minister and President, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Rev. John L. McCullough
President and CEO, Church World Service

Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton
Presiding Bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Mrs. Diane Randall
Executive Secretary, Friends Committee on National Legislation

Rev. Dr. James Moos
Co-Executive, Global Ministries (UCC/DOC)

Ms. Lisa Haugaard
Executive Director, Latin America Working Group

Rev. Dr. Ron Adams
Pastor, Madison (WI) Mennonite Church

Mr. J. Ron Byler
Executive Director, Mennonite Central Committee U.S.

Mr. Ervin Stutzman
Executive Director, Mennonite Church USA

Mr. Lawrence Couch
Director, National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd

Mr. Jim Winkler
President and General Secretary, National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA

Rev. Ron Stief
Executive Director, National Religious Campaign Against Torture

Sister Patricia Chappell
Executive Director, Pax Christi USA

Rev. Mamie Broadhurst
Pastor, Presbyterian Church (USA)

Rev. Gradye Parsons
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Church (USA)

Emily Brewer
Director, Presbyterian Peace Fellowship

Rev. Peter Morales
President, Unitarian Universalist Association

Rev. John C. Dorhauer
General Minister and President, United Church of Christ

Rev. Kent Siladi
Conference Minister, United Church of Christ, Connecticut Conference

Rev. Dr. John Deckenback
Conference Minister, United Church of Christ, Central Atlantic Conference

Rev. Michael Neuroth
Policy Advocate, United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries

Mr. Don Morris
Interim Executive Director, US Conference of Mennonite Brethren

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

House Child Nutrition Authorization Bill Cause for Concern

May 4, 2016

Dear Members of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce:
We, the undersigned faith organizations and members of the Interreligious Working Group on Domestic Human Needs, are deeply concerned about the proposed Child Nutrition Reauthorization legislation being considered by the House Education and the Workforce Committee (H.R. 5003). We are called by our faith traditions to feed the hungry and to care for the most vulnerable in our society. Our efforts in local communities serve as a vital lifeline for struggling people, but we cannot match the role of government in assisting and supporting the nearly 16 million children who live at risk of hunger. Therefore, we are called to advocate for robust child nutrition programs.
Today, 1 in 5 children in the United States live at risk of hunger. Hunger is particularly devastating for children, as childhood hunger and malnutrition impair proper physical and cognitive development and hold back our nation’s young from reaching full potential in life. Child nutrition programs should ensure that all children, regardless of race, class, or zip code, have the food they need to live healthy childhoods, to succeed in school, and to reach their full potential.
We urge you to make the following changes to the legislation:
·       Community Eligibility Provision: We are deeply concerned about the proposal to raise the eligibility threshold for schools to participate in the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) from 40% to 60% eligible students. If this proposal is included, more than seven thousand currently participating schools would need to reinstate a paper application process and return to monitoring the eligibility of their students.  These schools serve nearly 3.4 million students.[1]  More than 11,500 schools that qualify for community eligibility but have not yet adopted it would lose the ability to participate, making it more difficult for millions of additional students to receive needed school meals. Inevitably some students eligible for lunch and breakfast programs will lose access due to an administratively burdensome application process, denying the food they need to thrive. Further, CEP removes the stigma students may encounter when receiving a free or reduced price meal. CEP adds the dignity our faith traditions call us to provide when serving those in need. We urge the committee to maintain the 40% threshold for CEP to maintain sufficient access to school lunch programs.

·       Summer Meals: It is disheartening that only 1 in 6 low-income children currently access summer meal programs. Hunger does not take a summer vacation, so it is up to Congress to fund innovative programs that improve access and participation in summer meals for all children in need. Improvements to these programs should prioritize access to summer feeding options for those living in rural communities and on Indian Reservations, who are particularly underserved by current summer meal programs. We urge the committee to make significant new investments in summer meal programs and to support alternative delivery models to better connect eligible children to meals during the summer months.

·       Verification: We are concerned that increasing the number of school lunch program applications that must be verified will negatively impact children and families, as children will inadvertently lose access to important nutrition programs. These processes especially hurt students whose parents do not speak English as a first language or are unable to fill out the appropriate forms. The verification process should not become so onerous that it inhibits eligible students from receiving meals. For these reasons, we urge the committee to thoughtfully consider impacts on schools and low-income families and communities before advancing the proposal to raise the verification cap. 

·       WIC: The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) is an essential health program for pregnant women, new mothers, and children under five. WIC does not only provide funding for healthy food and formula, but also nutrition advice, breastfeeding support, and referrals to doctors. We urge the committee to find new ways to increase access to WIC by further investing in the program and increasing the child eligibility age.
Our faith traditions compel us to care for those most in need. Our country’s commitment to ensure all children are fed reflects this sacred mandate. Congress’ work to balance the budget and protect program integrity should not come at the expense of child nutrition programs that support low-income families. As you move forward in reauthorizing these programs, we urge you to make smart, long-term investments in the futures of our children and our nation by expanding access and participation in these essential programs.
The Association of Jewish Family and Children’s Agencies
Bread for the World
Church of the Brethren, Office of Public Witness
Ecumenical Poverty Initiative
The Episcopal Church
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Islamic Relief USA
Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States
Jewish Council for Public Affairs
The Jewish Federations of North America
MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger
National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd
NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby
Office of Social Justice of the Christian Reformed Church
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
The Salvation Army National Headquarters
The Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, Institute Justice Team
Union for Reform Judaism
United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries
The United Methodist Church – General Board of Church and Society

Signatures as of May 3, 2016

[1] Neuberger, Zoe. Proposal to Restrict Free School Meals Option Could Increase Food Insecurity in High-Poverty Neighborhoods. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 18 Apr. 2016.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

U.S. State Department responds to faith groups’ call to probe Israeli human rights abuse

WASHINGTON DC April 27, 2016 – On Monday the US Department of State responded to a letter regarding cases of apparent extrajudicial killings by Israeli forces sent in February by twelve churches and faith-based organizations.

In the February letter  to  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, the organizations asked the State Department to investigate several cases and determine whether they constitute violations of the Leahy Law. “If a Leahy Law violation occurred, then the units responsible should be ineligible to receive future U.S. security assistance as stipulated by the law,” the letter concluded.

In its response, the Department of State confirmed that “In Israel and the Palestinian Territories, the Department has noted several of the allegations referred to in the material you provided, including the cases of Fadi Alloun, Saad Al-Atrash, and Hadeel Hashlamoun.” The Department of State also reassured the churches and faith-based groups that "We continue to emphasize that host governments should investigate credible allegations in a timely and transparent manner.”

Today, Dr. Peter E.  Makari, Executive for the Middle East and Europe, Global Ministries of the United Church of Christ and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), said, “We are encouraged to receive this response from the Department of State, and we look forward to continuing our conversation with them. At the same time, we urge the Department of State to prevent any further assistance to Israeli units implicated in gross violations of human rights, as they have suggested, and to make this information publicly available as provided for in the Leahy Law.

The organizations submitting the cases and seeking investigations were the American Friends Service Committee; Church of the Brethren, Office of Public Witness; 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.

Monday, April 25, 2016

PC(USA) Stated Clerk Signs on to Statement on the Situation in South Sudan

We, the undersigned organizations, continue to be alarmed by the drastic humanitarian situation in South Sudan, with the Famine Early Warning Systems Network reporting increasing death rates and a deepening humanitarian catastrophe. While the formation of the Transitional Government of National Unity may be an important step, its first actions must be to end the fighting that continues and to provide immediate unimpeded humanitarian access throughout the country to alleviate the suffering of the South Sudanese people. Progress on these issues should be a key test of the new government in determining whether the international community should provide financial support in the coming months.

The United Nations estimates that grain shortages in South Sudan are up over 50 percent from last year’s already low level and that 5.8 million South Sudanese, fully half the population, are severely food insecure. Tens of thousands have died and over 2.3 million South Sudanese have been forced to flee their homes. Since the August agreement was signed, more than 100,000 have fled to neighboring countries, including the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan. Against this backdrop of continuing suffering, the U.N. has documented 60 or more incidents of impeded humanitarian access in each of February and March 2016, including the killing of six aid workers, robberies and impeded access to key areas. According to the UN, fully 72 percent of the March incidents involved violence against humanitarian workers or assets. With the dry season coming to an end next month, the need to open routes to transport humanitarian supplies to the conflict zones in the north and other places where urgent assistance is needed has never been greater. Moreover, the international community must not wait for even more evidence before responding to the latest UN appeal. The evidence we do have shows that people are suffering intolerably now and these people will continue to suffer while further reviews are taken.

For their part, the parties to the conflict and the Transitional Government of National Unity should ensure immediate authorization for humanitarian agencies to move throughout the country, including:
  • Removal of checkpoints, 
  • Pre-clearance all barge traffic by UN and humanitarian actors,  
  • Ending the practice of imposing illegal payments and arbitrary request for material support, 
  • Allowing civilians to move unimpeded to areas where they can access humanitarian assistance,  
  • Ceasing restrictions on international and local staff from carrying out humanitarian activities, 
  • Imposing a zero tolerance policy for those who impede humanitarian access, including by relieving and bringing to justice in accordance with international humanitarian law any military commander in the chain of command or national or local official who fail to ensure the safe passage of humanitarian assistance. and
  • Coordinating between humanitarian actors, members of government, and civil society actors to ensure conflict sensitivity, thereby avoiding exacerbating tensions surrounding distribution and access to resources.
In addition, all commanders throughout the chain of command should immediately enforce the ceasefire and permit ceasefire monitors freedom of movement to accurately report progress. Any commander who fails to do so should be relieved of command and prosecuted if they fail to do so. Ending the violence that is driving this humanitarian crisis is essential to a long-term, sustainable solution.

Once the Transitional Government of National Unity is in place, we expect the Transitional Government to work with the international community and invest more of its own resources into such services as providing emergency food and health assistance to the South Sudanese who so desperately need it.

The August 2015 peace agreement, which was supposed to end the violence and this mounting suffering, is failing the South Sudanese people, with little convincing evidence to date that the parties intend to fully implement the agreement. International diplomatic efforts alone, which have centered on the agreement, have neither achieved an end to the violence nor secured the humanitarian access needed to relieve the suffering of the South Sudanese.

The failure of the Transitional Government to take serious and sustained actions to end the violence and ensure unimpeded humanitarian access as outlined in this statement should spur the United States, the United Nations and the broader international community to immediately take action to pressure the parties to fulfill these basic responsibilities of any legitimate government..

President Obama’s leadership in Addis last year was crucial in pushing the warring parties to sign the August 2015 agreement. With only eight months remaining in the Obama Administration, the President must act immediately and firmly so as not to leave legacy of failed efforts and a humanitarian catastrophe for the next president.


American Friends of the Episcopal Church of the Sudans
Richard Parkins, Executive Director

Better World Campaign
Peter Yeo, President

Coalition of Advocates for South Sudan
Mr. Kwaje Lasu, Chairman of the Board

The Enough Project
John Prendergast, Founding Director

Humanity United
David Abramowitz, Managing Director

Lindsay Coates, President

Jewish World Watch
Mike Brand, Director of Policy and Programs

Presbyterian Church (USA)
Rev Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly

Refugees International
Michel Gabaudan, President

STAND: The Student-Led Movement to End Mass Atrocities
Francesca Freeman, Student Director

Sudan Advocacy Action Forum
Dr. Eleanor Wright, Moderator

 United to End Genocide
Tom Andrews, President

Plan a Vigil in Support of DACA/DAPA Before SCOTUS Decision at the End of June

On Monday April 18, thousands of people rallied in front of the US Supreme Court as the justices heard oral arguments in United States v. Texas. Twenty-six states, including Texas, sued the Obama administration for the executive actions President Obama signed in 2014 that were intended to defer deportation for millions of undocumented immigrants, specifically for the parents of legal U.S. residents. That program is known as DAPA.

In November, 2014, President Obama issued several executive immigration initiatives, including vital administrative relief programs for millions of immigrants. Key provisions of the reforms included expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA). At its core, the goal of DACA/DAPA is to protect and keep families together. The programs are intended for people with close family ties to U.S. citizens and residents and do not pose a safety or security threat. In February, 2015 a Texas federal district court blocked implementation of the DACA/DAPA programs. In response, the Department of Justice petitioned the Supreme Court to hear the case.

DACA and DAPA are important step to protecting immigrant’s right until comprehensive immigration reform is passed. They provide tremendous economic benefits to everyone in the United States.

You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. You shall not abuse any widow or orphan.
- Exodus 22:21-22

As Presbyterians, we recognize that these texts instruct the people of God on how to treat the “alien,” sometimes alternately translated “foreigner” or “immigrant.” Indeed in today’s vocabulary, these passages are clearly instructions on how we must treat immigrants and refugees in our midst. The challenge is not simply to investigate the linguistic derivation of this term, but to recognize that each of these groups – aliens, widows, orphans – represents otherness in the society. The clear implications of the texts are that no one (outcasts or otherwise) should be abused or be treated as second-class citizens. Nor should they be bereft of the assistance of the whole community in breaking the chains of oppression that bind them.

The high court will decide on the future of the immigration initiatives by June 30. Programs affected by President Obama’s initiatives affect more than 2.6 million U.S. citizens living with an affected family member. The Office of Public Witness stands with these millions of families in hope for a court decision that will allow them to remain together.

The Interfaith Immigration Coalition is asking that people plan or attend a vigil or action in support of DACA/DAPA between now and the end of June, when the Supreme Court will release its decision. Please consider planning an event, and use this resource and planning guide as a tool in your advocacy.