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.