Thursday, June 25, 2015


Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness
100 Maryland Avenue 
Suite 410
Washington, DC 20002
Contact: Reverend Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II

Two-Year Anniversary of the Shelby v. Holder Decision
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) extends thanks to Senators Patrick Leahy, Dick Durbin, and Chris Coons and Representatives John Lewis, Terri Sewell, Linda Sanchez and Judy Chu for sponsoring the Voting Rights Advancement Act. Two years ago the Shelby v Holder decision created a major setback in the rights of citizens of the United States to vote. 
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has historically stood with Church, civil rights groups and other organizations in advocating for equal voting rights in the United States. Our General Assemblies have consistently voted to increase voter participation, to ensure equality and fairness, to provide for accountability and responsibility, to renew democracy more broadly, and to propose actions for individuals, congregations, and councils of the church. We have also advocated for addressing the disenfranchisement of people of color in the U.S. electoral process. We believe voting to be an act of discipleship. Therefore, we encourage our members to exercise their right to vote for the candidate of their choice. We also affirm the need for persons to study the issues and vote regularly.
We are witnessing too many breaches in our democratic process, particularly as it pertains to voting in the United States. We earnestly pray that Congress will come together, as it has done since 1965, to restore a commitment to fairness and justice in the electoral process. Today’s news of the Voting Rights Advancement Act gives hope for the days ahead. 

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness Director Applauds Supreme Court Decision on Affordable Healthcare

The Supreme Court of the United States decided today in a 6-3 vote to uphold the Affordable Care Act. Reverend Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, Director of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness, expressed praise for the decision of the court.

“The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness has advocated for affordable healthcare for all citizens of the United States for more than sixty years.  We are grateful that the Supreme Court upheld the legitimacy of state exchanges, which provide greater access to enrollment in states that are not participating in the federal effort to insure people. It is our hope that this decision will end the long and arduous debate over the Affordable Healthcare Act, and that our nation will now focus on other important issues related to poverty and inequality.”

Monday, June 15, 2015

Faith and Immigrant Communities Fast at ICE Headquarters, Expose Refusal to Implement New Deportation Policies

Beginning tomorrow, Tuesday, June 16 through Thursday, June 18, the Presbyterian Office of Public Witness is cosponsoring a 3-day fast and prayer vigil in front of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) Headquarters in Washington, D.C, to stand with immigrants at risk of unjustified deportation. It is centered on two Sanctuary cases: Arturo Hernandez Garcia at First Unitarian Society of Denver and Rosa Robles Loreto in Tucson. Rosa has been in Sanctuary for 10 months at Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson. Take action for Rosa here and Arturo here.



For Immediate Release June 11, 2015

Megan Cagle, Church World Service (602) 399-0723

Faith and Immigrant Communities Fast at ICE Headquarters, Expose Refusal to Implement New Deportation Policies

National days of fasts, prayer vigils push Obama administration to hold ICE accountable for failing to implement executive actions on prosecutorial discretion

WASHINGTON, D.C. – After months of continual inaction by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials to implement the Obama administration’s November 2014 memorandum on prosecutorial discretion, faith and immigrant community leaders will hold a multi-day fast and prayer vigil beginning on Tuesday, June 16, 2015. Held in front of ICE headquarters in Washington, D.C., people of faith will stand with immigrants across the country who are at risk of unjustified deportation.

WHEN: Tuesday, June 16, 2015. Press conference will start at 11:00AM in front of ICE headquarters. Participants will lead songs, prayers, and share stories until the breaking of the fast at 5:30PM on Thursday, June 18, 2015.

WHERE: Press conference and actions will be held at ICE headquarters: 500 12th St. SW, Washington, D.C.

WHAT: Despite President Obama’s executive actions last year that directed the Department of Homeland Security to exercise prosecutorial discretion in deportation cases, ICE officials have continually failed to implement and follow the orders. The planned fast and joint actions across the country aim to hold the agency accountable for their failure to implement discretion and relief policies aimed at protecting individuals who have family and community ties in the United States. The fast is centered specifically on the cases of Arturo Hernandez Garcia and Rosa Robles Loreto who are living in churches in Denver and Tucson, respectively, to find sanctuary and fight deportation and separation from their children, families and communities. Visit for more information.

SPEAKERS: Sanctuary resident Arturo Hernandez Garcia via telephone; Rev. Jeannie Shero, First Universalist Church of Denver; and Rev. Dr. Earl Trent, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Church World Service and Senior Pastor, Florida Avenue Baptist Church.

VISUALS: Signs in support of sanctuary residents, pictures of Arturo Hernandez Garcia and Rosa Robles Loreto, protestors and activists, clergy members, interfaith symbols and altar.

CO-SPONSORS: American Friends Service Committee, Church World Service, Disciples Refugee & Immigration Ministries, General Board of Church and Society, Franciscan Action Network, Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office, National Day Laborer Organizing Network, New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia, Presbyterian Office of Public Witness, Southside Presbyterian Church, Standing on the Side of Love, UURISE - Unitarian Universalist Refugee and Immigration Services and Education, United Methodist Church, and the Unitarian Universalist Association.


Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Resource: The Church's Stance on Private Prison Abolition

The Presbyterian Church U.S.A. and For Profit Prisons:
Key Points in the Resolution Calling for the Abolition of For Profit Prisons
Approved by the 215th General Assembly (2003)

1. The PC(USA) has called for the use of incarceration as a last resort.
A 1978 statement on The Church and Criminal Justice reflected on the belief that “restraint may be necessary to limit or prevent behavior that is dangerous to others” (Minutes, PCUS, 1978, Part I, p. 199). Yet it noted that the ultimate objective of the criminal justice system should be “one of reconciliation rather than one of retribution” (Minutes, PCUS, 1978, Part I, p. 202), including punitive measures taken against prisoners. It also held that “imprisonment should not be used as the principle means to achieve community protection and well being” (Minutes, PCUS, 1978, Part I, p. 202).

2. The PC(USA) has called upon the church to protect the health, safety and legal rights of offenders, which are routinely violated at private prisons.
The following are two examples of violent  “business as usual” at CCA:
• William P., a fifteen-year-old boy had to be hospitalized in a state psychiatric ward for an entire year after spending six months at the CCA Training School in Columbia, South Carolina. A lawsuit filed against the company described a pattern of abusive treatment, including hogtying William and locking him in a cell with larger, older males known for victimizing youth as a form of “punishment.” The jury awarded the family $3 million, citing a pattern of criminal misconduct by the company. (More information: [2-2-1-1 CCA PP Metroland 5-15-00]. PDF of verdict: prisons/suit-sc.pdf)
• Salah Dafali, an asylum-seeker, was detained in a CCA’s Elizabeth, New Jersey, detention center. Dafali was beaten by guards for participating in a nonviolent protest and sent to a local hospital where doctors found boot-print marks on his face. (More information: [] Bergen Record coverage []).

3. Existing PC(USA) policy calls for the rehabilitation of prisoners and their reintegration into society, a goal antithetical to those of for profit prisons who seek to keep their facilities full.
o   In agreement with the statements of the 1910 and 1915 General Assemblies, we believe that the ultimate goal of the criminal justice system should be “restorative justice”: “addressing the hurts and the needs of the victim, the offender, and the community in such a way that all—victim, offender, and community—might be healed” (Resolution on Restorative Justice, Minutes, 2002, Part I, p. 576). We realize that, given the limits of our knowledge and understanding at this time, some may need to be incarcerated for life because they are a danger to themselves and others. But we hope that in the future, advances in working with such prisoners through spiritual, medical, rehabilitative, psychological, and educational techniques may some day make it possible for every prisoner to be successfully rehabilitated and restored to their community and family.

4.     Conclusion:
o   In a humane society, in a democratic society, there are some things that can never be for sale, even and especially when they involve “one of the least of these followers of mine.”
These things include:
• take away another human being’s freedom;
• separate them from other human beings;
• prevent them from communicating in any way with others; and
• use of physical force against them, up to and including deadly force.
o   Even if for-profit private prisons could achieve significant cost savings to the taxpayer, which in fact they have not been able to do, they would still be morally unacceptable. Private prisons are not an economic but a deep religious and ethical issue, a cornerstone of our collective work to put justice back into the so-called “criminal justice system.” 
       Find a PDF of this document here

Action Alert: Tell the House to Vote NO on Fast Track!

On May 22nd, the Senate voted to approve Trade Promotion Authority, a trade bill commonly known as "Fast Track". In the coming weeks, the House will now consider this bill - but its passage if far from certain.
Advocates like you have made a big difference in taking a stand for just trade practices. As a result of your calls, emails and letters, many of "Fast Track's" potential side effects have been exposed. Concerns over currency manipulation and human rights violations were discussed on the Senate floor, and the debate left many representatives questioning if there truly were any benefits of a "Fast Track" bill.
"Fast Track" is an undemocratic legislative procedure that will serve to usher in major trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with limited debate an no amendments. The TPP has been negotiated almost entirely in secret with no transparency or accountability. And, what we have gathered from leaked documents  is troubling. If the TPP passes, it would rewrite the rules for health, labor, the environment and food standards. While corporations will stand to benefit, the average citizen will not.
Contact your representative in Congress now and tell them to vote NO on the upcoming "Fast Track" vote. Join the National Call-In Day to unite with other advocates and let our message be heard!
Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson II, Director of the Office of Public Witness, has said the following on the upcoming vote in congress:
"The Senate vote to pass "Fast Track" is a commitment to continue a broken trading system. The door is open for more corporate lobbying and secret negotiating that fosters prosperity for corporate interest over public interest. We have witnessed this in the negotiations of flawed trade agreements such as NAFTA and CAFTA. The Trans-Pacific Partnership, through "Fast Track", stands to threaten labor, health, and environmental regulations. As a community of justice-seekers, the Presbyterian Church (USA) will not remain silent while the greater good remains under duress. We urge our representatives in the House to vote down “Fast Track” at this critical point in time."
Call your representative today: tell them to vote NO on Fast Track!
To learn more about Fast Track and the TPP, join our office in partnership with the Interfaith Working Group on Trade and Investment for a webinar! Speakers will provide an update on upcoming actions in DC, and offer simple ways to be an advocate in your home town! Follow the Office of Public Witness on Facebook for upcoming registration information.

Webinar: A Faithful Response to Fast Track
June 10th 12pm (EST)/ 9am (PST)

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Stated Clerk Signs Interfaith Letter on Lethal Drones Program

President Barack Obama
The Office of the President of the United States
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest
Washington, DC 20500

May 15, 2015


As senior leaders of our respective denominations and faith groups, we write to express our grave concerns about America’s lethal drones policy. The recent news of U.S. citizen Warren Weinstein’s inadvertent death by drone strike is disturbing and shows the deadly risks of drone warfare.

As people of faith, we share common values from our diverse traditions which broaden our concerns beyond national security objectives and national borders. We believe in the intrinsic value of all humanity and creation, compelling us to work for the common good of all people through the principles of love, mercy, just peace, solidarity, human dignity, restorative justice, and reconciliation. The U.S. practice of utilizing unmanned aircraft for targeted killings is contrary to shared values, which guide us, our faith communities, and most Americans.

Our concerns center first on the thousands of deaths, both intended and unintended, that have resulted from lethal drones technology. Despite the prevailing notion that drones are precise, the recent tragedy involving the death of a U.S. citizen demonstrates this is not the case. Indeed, such tragedies seem to happen frequently. Because the U.S. government rarely acknowledges its drone strikes or reports the intended and unintended deaths, our best knowledge of victims come from non-governmental organizations and journalists. The estimates of widespread casualties are devastating and morally unacceptable to us.123456 Additionally, the depravation of due process to citizen targets and the Administration’s unaccountable creation and control of a secret “kill list” are alarming to us, and counter to our notions of human dignity, participatory processes, and rule of law.

A second cause of concern for us as faith leaders is the secrecy and lack of accountability that surrounds these targeted drone strikes. The power to decide who will live and who will die has become lodged squarely in the Administration’s hands with the wide-ranging 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force. With that unchecked power, the Administration has secretly selected targets and conducted strikes without publicly disclosing these activities, explaining their basis of legality, reporting who was killed, or if unintended victims were compensated. This unaccountability prevents the public and their elected representatives from having the ability to meaningfully oppose the policies or fully understand what is being done in our name.

A final concern is our firm belief that drone strikes do not make us safer, but instead lead to perpetual destructive conflict and extremism. Rather than simply taking the place of human bodies in a conflict, drones actually expand conflict by taking us into combat where we otherwise would not go.7 They enable reliance on warfare as the first resort.

This ever-growing warfare has increased fear in communities, aided recruitment of extremist groups and failed to eradicate terror or bring about security.8 Effectively combatting extremism requires nonviolent, creative strategies, including sustainable humanitarian and development assistance, and policies and programs that address the political, economic and social exclusion that fuel radicalization. Several organizations, many of them religious, are pursuing such strategies around the world. These efforts deserve more attention and support, but resources instead are consumed by the endless drones war.

We join together as leaders of faith communities to urge a halt to lethal drone strikes, accountability for past strikes, and a negotiated agreement holding the international community to the same standards.

cc: United States House of Representatives
United States Senate


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

Sister Simone Campbell, SSS
Executive Director
NETWORK: A Catholic Social Justice Lobby

Patrick Carolan
Executive Director Franciscan Action Network

Sr. Patricia J. Chappell
Executive Director
PAX Christi USA

Very Rev. Carl Chudy, SX
Provincial Superior
Xaverian Missionaries in U.S.

Carole Collins
Director of Finance and Operations
Alliance of Baptists

Shan Cretin
General Secretary
American Friends Service Committee

Joan Diefenbach
Executive Director
NJ Council of Churches

Very Rev. Michael Duggan, MM
U.S. Regional Superior
Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers

Betsy Dwyer
Director Commission on Justice Glenmary Home Missioners

Very Rev. James J. Greenfield, OSFS
The Conference of Major Superiors of Men

Rev. Dr. Susan Henry-Crowe
General Secretary
General Board of Church and Society
The United Methodist Church

Jim Higginbotham
Disciples Peace Fellowship

Mark C. Johnson
Executive Director
The Center and Library for the Bible and Social Justice

Rabbi Nancy Fuchs Kreimer, Ph.D.
Director, Department of Multifaith Studies and Initiatives;
Associate Professor of Religious Studies
Reconstructionist Rabbinical College

Rev. Dr. Ken Brooker Langston
Disciples Justice Action Network

Gerry G. Lee
Executive Director
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

Rabbi Michael Lerner
Beyt Tikkun Synagogue
Tikkun Magazine
Network of Spiritual Progressives

Rev. Dr. A. Roy Medley
General Secretary
American Baptist Churches, USA
National Council of Churches of Christ, USA

Stanley J. Noffsinger
General Secretary
Church of the Brethren

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

Diane Randall
Executive Secretary
Friends Committee on National Legislation

Bill Scheurer
Executive Director
On Earth Peace

Kavneet Singh
Secretary General
American Sikh Council (ASC)
(Formerly World Sikh Council - America Region)

Sandra Sorensen
Director of Washington Office
Justice and Witness Ministries, United Church of Christ

The Rev. Sandra Strauss
Director of Advocacy and Ecumenical Outreach Pennsylvania Council of Churches

Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed
National Director
Office for Interfaith & Community Alliances
Islamic Society of North America (ISNA)

Jim Winkler
President and General Secretary
National Council of Churches

Scott Wright
Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach

*Denominations listed for affiliation purposes only

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Stated Clerk Writes to Army Corps of Engineers about Increased Coal Export Traffic in the Pacific NW

Col. John G. Buck
Seattle District Commander
Seattle District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
P.O. Box 3755
Seattle, WA 98 124-3755

Re:  Support of Lummi Nation Request for Denial of Permit for the Proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal Bulk Dry Goods Shipping Facility (Ref. No. NWS-2008-260).

Dear Colonel Buck:

As Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), a Christian denomination in the Reformed tradition, it is my responsibility to communicate the will of the General Assembly, our church’s highest governing body, which is composed of representatives from all 171 presbyteries in the nation. Last year, the 221st General Assembly (2014) expressed, by unanimous consent, serious concern about the expansion of coal transportation through the Pacific Northwest. I therefore urge you to deny the permit for the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal Bulk Dry Goods Shipping Facility at Cherry Point, WA.

The Assembly “recognize[d] that regional issues of extraction, pollution, transportation, and export have interstate, national, and global implications, both for environmental justice concerns and for global climate disruption/change. Such impacts range from coal dust pollution, diesel particulates, potential for derailments, negative impacts on real estate, and public health and safety concerns, to global climate change, sea level rise, acidification of oceans, severe weather events, and the ethical dilemma of profiting from the export of coal and other fossil fuels for use in countries whose environmental and pollution restrictions are less stringent.”

For these reasons we also urge that any expansion of coal train routes undergo a complete Environmental Impact Assessment conducted at multiple locations along the proposed expansion route so as to assess the impact on vulnerable communities.

To add to these environmental justice concerns, I understand that the proposed Cherry Point coal terminal will be located on Lummi Nation sacred sites. This terminal threatens Lummi fishing rights and their way of life. The potential damage to salmon, crab and herring fisheries cannot be mitigated.  Nor can the damage to ancestral homes and archeological sites be repaired once they are destroyed.   All of this has been clearly spelled out by the tribe in numerous letters to the Army Corps of Engineers. Siting this coal terminal at Cherry Point plainly violates Lummi Nation treaty rights. As a church, we have confessed our complicity in the oppression of this nation’s First People and affirm that “programs and services to Indian peoples are not ‘gifts,’ but are rights accorded to them as citizens of the United States and as members of Indian tribes who secured those rights through ‘government to government’ agreements and treaties.” I write to stand in solidarity with the Lummi Nation and urge you to reject the permit for the new Terminal.

Our covenants are sacred -- those with God, those between the U.S. government and the governments of indigenous people, and our covenant with each other to till and to keep the Earth healthy for generations to come. I call on the Army Corps of Engineers to uphold the treaty rights of the Native communities of the Northwest, to ensure that our extraction, transportation and export of fossil fuels not do harm to vulnerable communities and the environment, and immediately to deny the permit application for a proposed coal export terminal at Cherry Point, Xwe’chi’eXen in the Native language.   


The Reverend Gradye Parsons
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

CC:      The Honorable Jay Inslee
            The Honorable Patty Murray
The Honorable Maria Cantwell
The Honorable Suzan DelBene
The Honorable Rick Larsen
The Honorable Jaime Herrera Beutler
The Honorable Dan Newhouse
The Honorable Cathy McMorris Rodgers
The Honorable Derek Kilmer
The Honorable Jim McDermott
The Honorable Dave Reichert
The Honorable Adam Smith
The Honorable Denny Heck

General Assembly Concerned by Coal Trains

Approved as amended (amended text below) by the 221st General Assembly (2014) on the consent agenda --

On Affirming a Programmatic Review of the Impact of Expanded Coal Export Projects on Human Health and Well Being

The Presbytery of Seattle overtures the 221st General Assembly (2014) to state concerns related to the ongoing and expanding extraction and export of fossil fuels, particularly coal, from the U.S. for use in Asia, and approve the following measures for public health and climate stewardship:

     1. Urges civil authorities to conduct promptly a full, programmatic review and assessment of the impact of expanded coal export projects in Washington and Oregon on human health and the well-being of communities along the Northwest rail lines. [This should include full Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) produced by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the studies should be conducted at multiple locations along the proposed expansion route so as to assess the impact on vulnerable communities.
     2. Commends the Washington State Department of Environmental Quality (WA DEQ) for its decision to conduct a full EIS along the route within its jurisdiction and directs the Stated Clerk to communicate this approbation to WA DEQ.
     3. Recognizes that regional issues of extraction, pollution, transportation, and export have interstate, national, and global implications, both for environmental justice concerns and for global climate disruption/change. Such impacts range from coal dust pollution, diesel particulates, potential for derailments, negative impacts on real estate, and public health and safety concerns, to global climate change, sea level rise, acidification of oceans, severe weather events, and the ethical dilemma of profiting from the export of coal and other fossil fuels for use in countries whose environmental and pollution restrictions are less stringent.
     4. Affirms that civil authorities are called upon to require full disclosure and consideration of the combined effect of all coal export projects taken together on the poorest and most vulnerable communities, locally and globally. The General Assembly further affirms that the evaluation of coal export involves moral choices, in which key considerations are caring for the creation that God has made and with careful stewardship and justice for those who depend on a stable climate and water supply for survival.
     5. Directs the Stated Clerk to write to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the EPA, and the governors and congressional delegation of Washington, Oregon, Montana, and Idaho, urging comprehensive Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) along proposed routes for expanded export of fossil fuels, including analysis from the National Transportation Safety Board and other bodies as necessary.
     6. Commends the presbyteries of Seattle, Cascades, and North Puget Sound for their environmental awareness and advocacy, and encourages other Presbyterians and councils of the church to consider the impact of resource extraction, transportation, and use in their regions and to work with state and national ecumenical bodies and the Office of Public Witness of the Presbyterian Mission Agency in addressing concerns.