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Women religious speak out against voter suppression

 050721sister voting

An armed guard watches as Missionaries of Charity line up outside St. Teresa's Church in Calcutta to cast votes in India's general election Feb. 28. The election has been marred by several incidents of violence. (CNS photo from Reuters) (March 2, 1998)


By Carol Zimmermann

Catholic News Service


        WASHINGTON (CNS) - The Leadership Conference of Women Religious and the National Black Sisters Conference issued a joint statement May 5 on the importance of ensuring that all people enjoy the right to vote "regardless of their race, zip code, economic status or party affiliation."

        "As women of faith and faithful Americans, we believe that all people have the right and obligation to participate fully in our democracy," the sisters' statement said, adding that they "strongly oppose all attempts to restrict that participation by limiting the sacred right to vote."

        The national sisters' organizations also endorsed the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Action Day on May 8, a national event supporting expanded voting rights.

        LCWR, based in Silver Spring, Maryland, is an umbrella group of more than 1,300 members representing more than 40,000 Catholic sisters. The National Black Sisters Conference, based in Washington, is a group of more than 150 Black Catholic women religious and associates.

        Referring to current voting restriction measures being considered and adopted in some states, the sisters said the right to vote is "under attack once again." They also said the United States has a "long racist history when it comes to voting," citing the literacy tests and grandfather clauses that were part of Jim Crow laws used to suppress voting.

        "Our brothers and sisters struggled, some gave their lives, to secure the Voting Rights Act of 1965," the women religious said, adding that: "It falls to us to continue their work."

        They said Pope Francis' encyclical "Evangelii Gaudium" reminds them "that our vocation as Catholic sisters is inherently political" realizing that not only are they called to participate in public life but that their faith urges them to change the world.

        "We cannot remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice," the sisters said.

        Outlining what they plan to do, the statement said they would "call out elected officials, at every level, who continue to introduce measures that would return us to the era of 'Jim Crow.'" Conversely, they said they would "support legislation that will ensure all people can exercise their precious right to vote."

        The women religious said it is "long past time we established national standards for voting." They also called on the U.S. Senate to "immediately take up the For the People Act," a bill to expand voting rights, and urged members of the House and Senate to introduce the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, named in honor of the late civil rights icon and longtime congressman.

        The legislation aims to restore and strengthen protections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that had been weakened in the Supreme Court's 2013 decision in Shelby v. Holder.

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