Friday, June 29, 2012

Home Care Workers should have Wage Protection too

Tell Your Senator: Don't Prevent Home Health Workers from Earning Minimum Wage

In December of 2011, the Obama administration announced that it was proposing updates to regulations under the Fair Labor Standards Act that would ensure minimum wage and overtime protections to in-home care workers. More information about the proposed changes is available from the Department of Labor. Office of Public Witness Director, Rev. J. Herbert Nelson, submitted comments to the Department of Labor in support of this proposed regulation:

In light of our theological understanding of vocation and stewardship, and of the inherent value of work, we believe that all persons deserve the opportunity and have a responsibility to productive work at a fair wage.  This proposed rule will serve the common good by making working and living situations that much better for a segment of the population.  As our neighbors rise, so do we all.  Emphasizing the common good has clear implications for improving the economic security of older adults and for the workers who care for them.  We strongly support this proposed policy, which will improve the quality of care for people living with age-related and other disabilities, and the quality of the jobs of those who provide that care.

While this proposed change was intended to respond to the changing nature of the growing in-home care industry, some in Congress are working to prevent home health workers from accessing basic minimum wage and overtime protections. Tell your Senator today that home health workers deserve a living wage.

With respect to home care workers, in 2001, the Presbyterian General Assembly, "encourage[d] the church to be diligent in its covenant responsibility to its older members and their caregivers, advocating for living wages for all in this important industry." And in 2006, the General Assembly approved Economic Security for Older Adults, in which it advocated a system that "provide[s] workers in the formal, long-term care system decent wages, benefits, and working conditions." Home care workers provide skilled care for their patients and clients. They are much more than sitters and companions. Take action today to ensure that they get the wages they deserve.

This graphic outlines some statistics about home health care workers in this county. The facts are clear: home health workers deserve a living wage. Don't let Congress prevent them from earning one.

J. Herbert Nelson thanks Senator Rockefeller for his comments on coal

Last week, Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), a fellow Presbyterian, went to the Senate floor to give a bold and important speech about coal. It's a major shift for a politician from Appalachia- see the video.

Office of Public Witness Director J. Herbert Nelson sent the following letter, expressing our support and thanks, to Senator Rockefeller.


June 28, 2012

The Honorable Jay Rockefeller
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator Rockefeller,

Thank you for your bold and honest comments on the Senate floor last Wednesday, June 20, regarding the future of the coal industry in West Virginia. As Reformed Christians, we are deeply concerned about the well-being of our neighbors in West Virginia, and the effects that mercury pollution, climate change from greenhouse gas emissions, and mountaintop removal mining can have on families in Appalachia and around the world.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) stands with you in your support of the Environmental Protection Agency’s rule on mercury and air toxics, and we hope that you will continue support the EPA and other regulatory agencies as they work to improve the lives of all of God’s children and care for God’s good Creation.

As the psalmist reminds us, “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.” (Psalm 24:1) May the God of all Creation be with you always.


J. Herbert Nelson, II
Director for Public Witness
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Stated Clerk commends Supreme Court Decision on Health Care

A Statement from the Reverend Gradye Parsons,                        
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly:

We rejoice today as the Supreme Court rules to uphold constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. As Reformed Christians, we believe that all people possess inherent worth as children of God, and that God’s promise of abundant life extends to all. Health coverage must be available to all persons living in the United States, regardless of income, race or ethnicity, geography, age, gender, employment status, or health status. Presbyterians have worked both individually and collectively to move our nation toward a more inclusive and just system of health care – with a particular focus on persons whose health conditions or low income have created barriers to receiving needed health care. The Affordable Care Act is moving us in the right direction.
A just system of health care reflects a moral imperative to care for one another. The PC(USA) General Assembly avowed in 1988 that “Society and its constituent public, private, and voluntary organizations have a duty – a moral obligation – to promote a healthful environment and to assure the availability of health-giving resources to all people.” Indeed, our church has a long history of putting access to health care first and foremost among our worldly concerns and ministries of mercy, having established hospitals and clinics in communities even before building churches. In more recent years (2008), we identified a single-payer system as the best vehicle for providing such health care resources, and we continue in the conviction that Congress must enact a national medical plan that will ensure access for all people in this country who seek care.
We commend the Supreme Court upon its decision to uphold the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, which will greatly increase the number of people who have access to care, including:
§  Low-income working families up to 133% of the federal poverty level who will have access to health care through the expansions of Medicaid.
§  Persons with cancer and other serious medical conditions who will no longer be denied coverage by insurers; and persons who will no longer be dropped from coverage when they get sick.
§  Middle-income families without employer-sponsored insurance who will have subsidies to help purchase affordable insurance in the new exchanges.

With these legal challenges behind us, we are eager to take part in continued educational efforts to inform our faith communities about the benefits of the Affordable Care Act, and to help to connect uninsured persons with the health care they need. We call on Congress to refrain from further introduction of legislation that would derail full implementation, whether by defunding or by eliminating programs that are included in the Affordable Care Act. And we further call on Congress to take the next step toward health care justice, by adopting a single-payer health system for the good of all. We pray that our elected leaders will accept the decision of the Supreme Court and will diligently facilitate the full implementation of this vital, life-giving law. 

We thank God that millions more people in the United States will now have access to life-saving and life-enhancing health care.

Faithful Alternatives to Sequestration

Recently, the Office of Public Witness joined with interfaith partners to advocate for a more faithful approach to deficit reduction.  The time is now to share your concerns about the Sequester with your members of Congress! Click here to send a message. 
Faithful Alternatives to Sequestration was released by the Interreligious Working Group on Domestic Human Needs this morning at a Briefing at the Capitol.  The OPW's Representative for Domestic Poverty & Environmental Issues, Leslie Woods, was co-creator of this document.

Faithful Alternatives to Sequestration

From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded. – Luke 12:48

Rabbi Abba said in the name of Rabbi Simeon ben Lakish: the person who lends money [to a poor person] is greater than the person who gives charity; and the one who throws money into a common purse [to form a partnership with the poor person] is greater than either.  – B. Shabbat 63b

As people of faith, we believe that our economic arrangements with each other should serve to support God’s creation and should help the human community to flourish.  We therefore challenge the current economic reality that traps families in poverty for generations.  The widening gap in income and wealth, as well as the persistence of poverty, especially among children, are inconsistent with God’s intention for this world.

Our community seeks to advance the values of cooperation, social justice, and equal opportunity, while restraining those of greed, speculation, and inherited privilege.  At the root of our economic system must be fairness and justice.  Without these values, our economy is, quite literally, demoralized.  

Crushing poverty in a world of abundance is insufferable and our nation has allowed too much injustice and greed to govern our current economic structures.  Instead, we seek to increase equity and equality in this nation. We are alarmed at the growing economic divergence between rich and poor, creating permanent inequalities that are neither just nor socially sustainable. Over the past thirty years, tax policy has too often been used to perpetuate rather than address these inequalities.  It is our responsibility, both individually and collectively, to respond to those who are in need -- people living in poverty have sacrificed more than enough on the altar of deficit reduction. We need a more progressive tax code, where all members of the community carry their fair share of the responsibility, not only to ensure that we can meet immediate need while simultaneously reducing our deficits, but also to begin to address the astronomical growth in disparity over the last thirty years.  As one of our traditions so eloquently says, “from everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required.” 

It is from this place of concern for the common good, right relationship, and the just working of the economy, that we seek a balanced approach to deficit reduction.  Sequestration was developed as a backstop – a last resort if Congress failed to act in a more thoughtful and balanced way.  Whether Congress uses sequestration or some alternative as a means of achieving deficit reduction, Congress can and must act in a way that reflects our shared values. There are core challenges facing our nation: rising income inequality, persistent unemployment, historically high rates of poverty and anemic economic growth. These challenges must be addressed with justice.

Therefore, we refuse to accept additional spending cuts to programs that serve “the least of these,” and we support extending the tax cuts for low and middle-income families.  In particular, we support a strong, refundable Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit, as they are some of this nation’s most effective tools for alleviating poverty. 

 Our approach to upcoming sequestration needs to be rooted in our values – a balanced approach that addresses the deficit crisis with justice and compassion.  On the one hand, we need to be good stewards of the resources we already have, making judicious cuts to defense, earmarks, and other wasteful spending, while preserving that which is most important for the good of all.  On the other hand, we must increase revenue, in order to ensure that this nation can meet our need to operate a fair and just economy, which serves all of our human community. The nation’s deficit crisis cannot be solved through spending cuts alone – new revenues must be part of the solution. The need is great and the resources are abundant.  The budget choices we make must reflect this reality.

Therefore, we urge members of Congress to enact a comprehensive, balanced, and bipartisan deficit reduction package that:

    1.    Continues the precedent established and maintained for the past three decades – including in the Budget Control Act -- that deficit reduction should not increase poverty;
    2.    Protects from budget cuts discretionary and mandatory programs that make a real difference in the lives of poor and vulnerable people, and preserves the bi-partisan agreement to exempt low-income mandatory programs from such cuts;
    3.    Maintains the integrity and structure of low-income mandatory programs, such as SNAP and Medicaid, so they can continue to serve as effective tools for reducing poverty and countering economic downturns;
    4.    Accounts for the fact that, since 2010, non-defense discretionary spending has already contributed hundreds of billions of dollars toward deficit reduction – these programs should not have to sacrifice anymore;
    5.    Raises new revenues in ways that will allow us to meet this nation’s needs by:
a.       Increasing the progressivity of the tax code;
b.      Continuing current tax credits for low-income working households, proven effective at alleviating poverty and rewarding work, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit;
c.       Generating new revenue with a simpler, more progressive tax code from a broader tax base (including capital gains, dividends, and estate taxes) and increasing rates, if necessary;
d.      Not relying only on anticipated economic growth to generate new tax revenue;
e.       Eliminating tax expenditures not proven to influence behavior, such as subsidies to established corporations that no longer need government support.
    6.    Reduces health care costs system-wide so as to:
a.       Retain and implement the important improvements to access and cost containment strategies enacted in the Affordable Care Act;
b.      Prevent cost-shifting to people who cannot afford it;
c.       Refrain from putting further strain on states;
    7.    Includes significant cuts in military spending as recommended by several bipartisan commissions and non-governmental organizations, such as the Bowles-Simpson Commission, the Sustainable Defense Task Force, the Bipartisan Policy Center, and the Committee for a Responsible Budget.
    8.    Declines to shift defense cuts to non-defense discretionary and mandatory programs, which have carried the heaviest burden of spending reductions already enacted.

In a time of continuing, deep economic uncertainty, our faith gives us strength to face unemployment, poverty, and anxiety – not simply as individuals, but as a community with an ethical memory rooted in our shared sacred texts.  Today’s fiscal debates not only miss what should be the goal of the economy – the common good – but also, they fail to ensure that the functioning of the economy will, indeed, serve this purpose.  As Congress considers replacing the sequester mechanism, it must pursue a balanced approach that ensures that our collective responsibility to each other can and will be met.




What is the sequester?
The Sequester will enact $1.2 trillion in across the board spending cuts - half of which will come from defense spending and half from non-defense - and is set to go into effect this January, 2013.  If the Sequester goes ahead unchecked, the massive spending cuts will seriously compromise programs that serve those who most need the services of our nation's safety net.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Faithful Budget Prayer Service

Washington Interreligious Staff Community
Faithful Budget Prayer Service

Offered by the PC(USA) Office of Public Witness
100 Maryland Avenue, NE, Washington, DC
June 27, 2012

Since Monday, June 18, the Faithful Budget Campaign has gathered daily on the front lawn of the United Methodist Building, across from the US Capitol, for prayer vigils in solidarity with the Nuns on the Bus tour. Today's prayer vigil was offered and led by the PC(USA) Office of Public Witness.

OPW Fellow Blair Moorhead reads scripture during Wednesday's prayer service.

Reader 1: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?” (Luke 15:3b-4)

Reader 2: We are inspired by a common spiritual conviction that God has called on all citizens of the United States to protect the vulnerable and promote the dignity of all individuals living in our society.

All: With the help of our Creator, we aim to protect those struggling to overcome poverty in the U.S. and abroad and to exempt programs that protect people in poverty from the budget deficit debates. Help up Lord, we pray. 

Sung by all:   Spirit of the Living God fall afresh on me.
Spirit of the living God fall afresh on us. 

Reader 3: Let us pray: We thank you for this day that you have made, O God. Your love upon all humanity is awesome. We pray that you will help our Congress understand the need to be just as loving toward those who are poor and rejected by our society. We pray for women and children who are made vulnerable through domestic cuts in SNAP, WIC and Head Start. We pray for college students whose federal loan interest rates are being debated. Let their interest in pursuing education be increased by accessible and affordable education. We pray for men and women who are trapped in a world that expects them to be providers, but instead builds more for-profit prisons to house them when the economic plight of our country is in turmoil.

All: Help us Lord, we pray.

Sung by all:   Spirit of the Living God fall afresh on me.
Spirit of the living God fall afresh on us.

 Reader 4: We pray for our nation’s commitment to aid the most vulnerable people in our global community around the world. We call upon Congress to see through the eyes of the poor in other nations whose stomachs are swollen from hunger; those persons across the globe whose bodies are wracked with diseases that can be healed with common medicines; and persons outside of our borders who seek a renewal of hope through the international humanitarian assistance offered by our nation. 

 All: Help us Lord, we pray.

Sung by all:   Spirit of the Living God fall afresh on me.
Spirit of the living God fall afresh on us.

 Reader 5: We pray for the Supreme Court and its anticipated decision on health care. May their decision represent our willingness as a nation to demonstrate a concern for each other, and especially for persons who cannot afford health insurance. Be with those persons who are sick and dying right now because they cannot access adequate health care. 

All: Help us Lord, we pray.

 Sung by all:   Spirit of the Living God fall afresh on me.
Spirit of the living God fall afresh on us.

Reader 6: We pray for our Sisters who are traveling the country, spreading the message that a just and faithful budget is needed in these times. May our collective efforts to inform, instruct, and involve persons across this nation be for your glory. Keep us mindful that we do our work for You and not for ourselves.  

All: Help us Lord, we pray.

 Sung by all:   Spirit of the Living God fall afresh on me.
Spirit of the living God fall afresh on us.

 Reader 7: Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, ‘In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, “Grant me justice against my opponent.” For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.” 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? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’ (Luke 18:1-8)

A Parting Reminder – J. Herbert Nelson

 Sung by all:   Spirit of the Living God fall afresh on me.
Spirit of the living God fall afresh on us.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) leaders express both encouragement and concern over Supreme Court’s decision on Arizona SB 1070

Prepared to address pastoral needs in light of the law’s most controversial section being upheld

The Supreme Court has upheld the most controversial aspect of the anti-immigrant legislation adopted in Arizona. Section 2(B), the provision that permits officers conducting a stop, detention, or arrest to verify the person’s immigration status, was the only section challenged under federal preemption theory upheld by the Court.

As lawyers and advocates sift through the opinion to determine its impact on state immigration laws, the Reverend Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), is concerned with how the church will minister to families in states like Arizona. Parsons commented, “Right now, the most important issue is responding to the pastoral needs of those unsure about how this decision will affect their families.” He added, “We will work with local congregations and Presbyteries to ensure that communities have reliable and accurate information to make the best decisions for their families.”

This law creates an environment where some are more closely scrutinized and viewed as suspicious, and this worries many immigrants and advocates. Hostility in communities that is sanctioned by law creates an environment where immigrants are not welcomed, which is antithetical to the gospel. The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) calls the church to be open to the future to which God is drawing us, which includes church membership and welcoming all people regardless of worldly conditions. By denying the full humanity and rights of a segment of the population in the United States in the eyes of the law, Christians forget the stories of migration of their faith ancestors.

The Rev. J. Herbert Nelson, Director of the Office of Public Witness, stated, “The spirit of the Arizona law and others like it robs this country of the gifts immigrants bring to our communities and congregations by encouraging the public to look upon our sisters and brothers with suspicion and, in severe cases, disdain. This suspicion of individuals perceived to be immigrants also does harm to American citizens as we deny our interdependence on one another. This causes us to forget that we, too, were once strangers in this land.” 

Presbyterians have a long history of commenting on and advocating for immigration reform and ministering to immigrants suffering as a result of the restrictive laws. The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has continued this tradition by calling for the House and Senate to work together to develop laws that meet the needs of immigrant families and this country. The Arizona law and others like it are in conflict with General Assembly policy that opposes local enforcement of immigration laws and calls for immigration laws that uphold family unity and individual dignity.

Nelson said, “Section 2(B) can be interpreted to encourage racial profiling and this profiling does violence to the image of God that all people bear. I remain hopeful that this section of the law will eventually be struck down.”

While for now the law is uncertain in the long term, Parsons stated, “Sometimes government laws can be in conflict with the gospel. Therefore, it is important for people of faith to think critically about the elements of a just law and how to respond to injustice. The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and other denominations and faiths have signed onto the Interfaith Platform on Human Immigration Reform. We remain committed to the factors set forth in the Platform, which we regard as just and necessary to meet the needs of our country.”

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is working with our inter-faith partners to develop an appropriate faith-based response to move immigration reform forward and support local congregations and Presbyteries working to address the needs of their local communities in light of the Court’s ruling.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Farm Bill Passes in Senate

So how did the Senate vote on the Farm Bill?

The Farm Bill passed the Senate on Wednesday, June 20, by a vote of 64-35. The Senate also voted on 73 amendments to the Bill. We told you about several of these proposals in recent days, and you reached out to your Senators to make your voice heard for a fair and just Farm Bill.

Let's take a look at the resulting votes for some of the issues you advocated for in the past weeks.

SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as Food Stamps) was a program up for several changes in the Farm Bill. SNAP's structure could have been completely changed with these votes. Instead, the most harmful challenges to SNAP were voted down. These amendments included:
  •  Sen. Sessions' proposal to eliminate categorical eligibility, and thus reduce the numbers of people who would be automatically enrolled in SNAP.  Defeated 56-43.
  • Sen. Sessions' amendment to eliminate state SNAP performance bonuses. Defeated 58-41.
  • The amendment by Sen. Sessions to require documentation of every member in a household before any one person in that household could get SNAP never made it to the floor for a vote. We were concerned about the drastic impact this would have on citizen recipients of SNAP benefits, especially children, who live in households with mixed documentation status. We are pleased that it did not surface for a vote.
Other amendments that we were watching included:
  • Sen. Nelson's proposal to keep SNAP bonus performances and specifying how they could be reinvested to improve SNAP.  This was approved on voice vote - so there was no roll call.
  • Sen. Gillibrand's amendment to restore the $4.5 billion cut to SNAP was defeated in a vote of 66-33.
In good news beyond the SNAP provisions, several of the amendments to bring benefits to farmers and conserve farmlands passed:
  • Sen. Brown's amendment to support rural development and beginning farmers.
  • Sen. Chambliss' effort to uphold water and soil conservation.
  • Senators Durbin and Coburn's proposal to limit crop insurance subsidies.
We thank you for your advocacy efforts on these amendments.  While the PC(USA) Office of Public Witness is disappointed that the cuts to SNAP will not be restore, as Sen. Gillibrand proposed, we are very glad that the mandatory structure of the program will remain intact, providing a vital safety net to those who are experiencing food insecurity.

The future of the Farm Bill in the House of Representatives is unclear. The House Agriculture Committee is not expected to release a bill until after the July 4th recess, so a Farm Bill will not hit the floor of the House for at least a couple weeks. Both the bill’s shape and future in the House remain unknown Please stay tuned for possible advocacy opportunities as the Farm Bill moves onto the House.

Ecumenical Advocacy Days 2013

Nourishment is one of the most basic human needs yet we face numerous challenges in securing adequate nourishment for all. Food-related issues in the U.S. and abroad are constantly among the headlines. The practices of transnational food corporations which dominate food supply chains, notably the use of industrial pesticides and factory farms, are infecting our bodies and our world. Buzz words and phrases such as “organic”, “local”, “slow food”, and “real food” have gained significance in popular conversation and the food movements they describe have changed the ways we approach food production and consumption. What's on the table? Who is at the table?

The theme for the upcoming Ecumenical Advocacy Days will be “At God’s Table: Food Justice for a Healthy World.” What does God’s table look like? What are the injustices underlying the availability of food? What does healthy really mean? How can we transform our world to better reflect God’s table of abundance and equality?

Save the Date!

April 5th- 8th, 2013
Washington, DC

Come to the 11th annual Ecumenical Advocacy Days to seek Food Justice for a Healthy World. In a world that produces enough food for everyone, EAD will explore the injustices in global food systems that leave one billion people hungry, create food price shocks that destabilize communities everywhere, and undermine God’s creation. At God’s table, all are invited and fed, and the poorest in our midst are given a special place. Together we will seek the abundance and equality that we find reflected in the biblical image of God’s great banquet table (Exodus 16:16-18 & Luke 14:15-24). Inspiring speakers will offer a faith-based vision for fair and humane food policies and practices, along with grassroots advocacy training, all culminating with Monday’s Lobby Day on Capitol Hill.

Ecumenical Advocacy Days is a high impact weekend sponsored by the ecumenical Christian community and grounded in biblical witness and our shared traditions of justice, peace and integrity of creation. Our goal is to strengthen our Christian voice and mobilize for advocacy on specific U.S. domestic and international policy issues relating to food justice. This upcoming year, the Compassion, Peace and Justice Days will be combined with the Ecumenical Advocacy Days to form an advocacy training weekend which will keep the title Ecumenical Advocacy Days. We hope to see you there!


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Second Tuesday with Bill Somplatsky-Jarman

Last Tuesday, June 12, Rev. Bill Somplatsky-Jarman, Coordinator of the PC(USA) Mission Responsibility Through Investment committee, spoke at our monthly Second Tuesday briefing on the issue of faith-based investing and the Israel-Palestine conflict. Download his presentation here!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Office of Public Witness Director Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson II Leads Prayer Following First Ever Congressional Hearing on Solitary Confinement

Closing prayer and message given by Reverend J. Herbert Nelson, II during the religious leaders’ breaking of the fast at the National Religious Campaign Against Torture Press Conference (NRCAT). The press conference followed the first ever hearing on solitary confinement. Religious leaders participated in the 23 hour fast representing the number of hours that persons are allowed under the present law to be held in solitary confinement.

Let us pray.
Gracious and Eternal Creator, we thank for allowing us to stand one more time in your name. We give thanks that You allow us to stand through this public witness in obedience to Your will. Consecrate our fast, that it may be a light upon the hill to those who are bound by incarceration, and detention. We come asking that You be with those suffering in solitary confinement. And, may the hearings today be a new beginning to much needed reform throughout our criminal justice system. Let our collective witness beyond religious affiliations be a beacon of light for the world to see our witness and follow Your will as we have been guided to remember in our fasting and prayers. We pray in the name of the Sovereign Creator who gives us life, health, and strength to make a difference. Amen.  

As an Interfaith group of justice advocates, we are engaged in fasting to remind and be reminded of our common commitment to end prolonged solitary confinement, while reinforcing our commitment to our Creator and one another. Our fasting is not for display; however, our public presence here today is a collective witness on behalf of our brothers and sisters who undergo mental, emotional, and spiritual torment while in solitary confinement.   
            We fasted for the past twenty-three hours to sound the alarm, for our prophetic traditions call us to speak truth in love to power, while alerting our nation to engage in this struggle against the spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical lockdown of the human spirit encountered by persons who are incarcerated and detained throughout the world. 
            We fasted to symbolize the deep spiritual hunger and relational void that many encounter while held in isolation from other human beings.
            We fasted for righteousness’ sake, while acknowledging our own human frailty.  We recognize that only our Creator is perfect in both will and Spirit.  While we are seeking to be used by the Almighty we offer ourselves in humble submission to the only help that we know who can overturn wayward powers and principalities in this present age.
We fasted and prayed that our President and our Congress can one day see the global vision of reforming laws, so that love may be the ethos of our engagement, even with those persons who are guilty of crimes. We believe that this effort can begin with making it illegal to hold human beings in solitary confinement for twenty-three hours.
Now, we publicly break our fast by partaking of this bread which symbolizes our collective belief that through our standing together in solidarity within our various faith traditions, our Creator will break open new possibilities through us and others while we hold the light of awareness on this critical issue of our day. We break the fast, but not our commitment to end prolonged solitary confinement.  

More Farm Bill Amendments Up for Vote in Senate This Afternoon

To Have Your Say As More Farm Amendments Go Before the Senate - Call Your Senator Now!

The Senate will continue voting on the Farm Bill this afternoon. In addition to a critical amendment by Senator Gillibrand to restore cuts made to SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as Food Stamps), the Senate will vote on several harmful amendments that would deepen cuts to SNAP.

In addition, sustainable and equitable agriculture is also on the table. Support conservation and the next generation of American farmers. Senators Coburn and Durbin’s amendment #2439 will place long-overdue limits on crop insurance subsidies - America’s largest farm subsidy - and build on the current reforms that cap commodity payments in the farm bill.  Senator Chambliss’s amendment #2438 on conservation compliance will protect our natural resources by reattaching important on-farm conservation requirements to crop insurance, as it was until 1996. Senator Brown’s amendment #2445 will fund critical programs like the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, Value-Added Producer Grants, and the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program – these programs create jobs and foster the next generation of farmers and ranchers!

The outcome of these votes would have a significant impact on the millions of Americans who rely on nutrition programs to prevent hunger and promote nutrition as well as farmers across the country. Your advocacy is needed today! Please call your senators right now:
  • Call this toll-free hotline at 877-698-8228. Listen to the pre-recorded message and enter your zip code when prompted. 
  • You will be automatically connected to your first Senator.  Deliver this message:
    As your constituent, I urge you to protect and strengthen nutrition programs in the Farm Bill. Support the Gillibrand and Nelson amendments to strengthen SNAP and restore SNAP cuts. Please oppose the Sessions and Boozman amendments to cut SNAP.
          Please Support the Coburn and Durbin amendment to reform crop subsidies. Support 
          the Brown amendment for job creation. And please vote for our nation's lands  
          by supporting the Chambliss amendment with conservation requirements.

  • You will then be connected to your second Senator; deliver the same message.
  • Don’t forget to share this alert with your friends and family!

Thank you for all your efforts so far on the Farm Bill. Your advocacy makes a difference!
To read more about the Farm Bill, see our previous posts, A Just and Healthy Farm Bill and The Path Toward a Just and Fair Farm Bill Continues in the Senate

Raise Hope for the Congo

The militias in the DR Congo make millions of dollars yearly by trading four minerals: the ores that produce tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold. The armed groups then use this money to purchase large numbers of weapons for use in their campaign of vicious brutality against civilians. Most of these minerals ultimately end up in electronic devices such as cell phones, portable music players, and computers.   Because there is no transparency in the minerals supply chain, consumers have no way to guarantee that their purchases are not funding the militias that repeatedly carry out atrocities against civilians, including mass rape.

The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act, signed into law in July 2010, contains Section 1502, which requires American companies to guarantee that the raw materials they use to make their products are not tied to the conflict in Congo.  This monitoring is accomplished by auditing the mineral supply chains.

The Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) must now issue regulations on conflict minerals, but is under tremendous industry and corporate pressure to delay the implementation of the law for three more years.  The SEC must not delay on conflict minerals regulations any longer. A postponement means delayed movement toward a minerals trade that helps rather than harms communities.  Please stay tuned to the Office of Public Witness for news of advocacy opportunities with the SEC.

What you can do:

Consumers must be able to buy conflict-free electronics in the same way they can buy fair trade coffee or not buy blood diamonds.  A system of certification would guarantee that the brutal violence in the Congo is not being financed by the purchase of electronic products.   Congo requires a system of certification, as well as the Dodd-Frank legislation’s tracing and auditing stipulation.

However, we must create consumer demand for conflict-free electronics in order for a certification regime to be successful.  The “conflict-free” movement is growing but it needs more support.  Your voice matters!

You can make an impact.  The Enough Project is currently recommending two actions -

Email the electronics industry leaders and urge them to make their products conflict-free. The message is clear: “If you take conflict out of your cell phone, I will buy it.”

Urge your school, or other institution to go conflict-free. Urge your campus or school to go conflict-free. Get your school to call publicly on electronics companies to make conflict-free computers and printers for your campus.

Friday, June 15, 2012

23 Hour Fast to End 23 Hour Solitary Confinement: June 18th-19th

Torture is a reality here on U.S. soil as well as abroad. The U.S. is a world leader in holding prisoners in prolonged solitary confinement. This practice is not only cruel and inhumane, under certain circumstances it can amount to torture.

“…solitary confinement is a cruel practice which causes permanent psychological damage to those who have been treated in that manner [which]…even in the absence of brutality can cause emotional damage, hallucinations, delusions, de-personalization and decline[d] mental functioning…Solitary confinement is banned under…the Geneva Conventions as it amounts to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” -Amnesty International

In the U.S., there are 44 state-run super-max prisons and one federal super-max prison, each of which holds inmates exclusively in solitary confinement. At least 80,000 people in the U.S. criminal justice system are held in solitary confinement on any given day.

The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights will hold the first-ever Congressional hearing on solitary confinement this Tuesday, June 19th.

We are partnering with the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) in calling for a nationwide 23 hour fast beginning the day before the hearing. This fast symbolizes the 23 hours per day prisoners spend in solitary confinement cells. Sign up here to join people of faith fasting across the nation from 1 p.m., Monday, June 18th until Noon, Tuesday, June 19th including our very own Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson II. We also invite you to participate in a picture campaign on Facebook and Twitter. Take a picture of yourself holding a sign declaring why this issue is important to you, why you decided to act, or a statistic about solitary confinement. Here are some examples: “I stand in solidarity with those suffering in solitary”, “23 Hour Fast to End 23 Hour Solitary”, “I fast because____.” Then post your picture to the NRCAT event page on Facebook and use it as your profile picture June 18th and 19th. If you use Instagram, please post your photo and send it out through both Facebook and Twitter. 

For those who are in the D.C. area, please consider joining us at the hearing on Tuesday, June 19th at 10:00 a.m. in Dirksen Senate Office Building, Room 226. This is a unique and meaningful opportunity. A well-attended hearing would show strong support for ending prolonged solitary confinement in U.S. prisons, so please come on the 19th, even if only for a short period of time. Please tell us if you are able to join us at the hearing by using this form.

As we have seen in recent prisoner hunger strikes in Virginia and California, refusing food is one of the few means prisoners across the country have to protest their conditions in solitary confinement. Praying and fasting will provide a powerful testimony that people of faith care deeply about limiting the use of solitary confinement.

To learn more about solitary confinement, go to NRCAT's page on Torture in U.S. Prisons and watch "Solitary Confinement: Torture in Your Backyard," a 20-minute film produced by NRCAT which features survivor testimonies and speakers from multiple faith perspectives.  

Thank you in advance for your participation in this incredible opportunity to shine a light in some of our nation’s darkest places. As we address the issue of torture domestically and internationally, let this fast be one way in which we, as a nation, pay attention to the log in our own eye and not only the speck in our neighbor's eye (Matthew 7:3-5).

·   Sign-Up Form:
·   Sample Tweet: Plz join me 4 the “23 Hour Fast to End 23 Hour Solitary” starting June 18 1pm. #23HourFast via @NRCATtweets
·   Facebook page to share:
·   Prayer for use during the fast:

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s concern for prisoners has been established for almost a century. In 1910, the General Assembly declared that the church ought to stand: 
For the development of a Christian spirit in the attitude of society toward offenders against the law. The Church holds that a Christian society must seek the reformation of offenders, and that it must endeavor to prevent the commission of crimes by furnishing a wholesome environment and by such education as will develop moral sense and industrial efficiency in the young (Minutes , PCUSA, 1910, Part I, p. 232).
…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 ).
…Encourage all Presbyterians…to work to protect the health, welfare, and well-being of the prisoners that are held in these facilities.

(Resolution Calling for the Abolition of For-Profit Private Prisons, 2003)