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Voter Suppression Laws Spit on the Grave of John Lewis

John Lewis, the late U.S. Representative from Georgia, once said, “The vote is precious. It is almost sacred. It is the most powerful non-violent tool we have in a democracy.”

For most of his life, Lewis got into “good trouble,” advocating for the voting rights of millions of Americans.

During the height of Jim Crow, Lewis and his fellow Freedom Riders traveled through the south, registering Black voters and pressuring the Johnson Administration to pass a voting rights bill.

Because of their determination and sacrifices, such as being beaten on Bloody Sunday near the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, millions of new voters were able to cast their ballots when the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed.

Empowering citizens to exercise their voting rights is foundational in maintaining a healthy and vibrant democracy. However, the United States has often struggled with the notion that every citizen should have the right to exercise their vote.

Voting rights have been a contentious battle between freedom and oppression. Here is a brief history:

1789: The U.S. Constitution granted states the power to set voting parameters, most often setting white male property owners as the only citizens allowed to cast a vote.

1820s: Most states dropped the requirement for property ownership but maintained white male tax-paying dominance.

1828: Maryland is the last state to remove religious restrictions for voters, giving voting rights to Jews.

1867: All native-born Americans were granted citizenship but not the right to vote. The exception was Native Americans who were not granted citizenship until 1887.

1867-1870: The Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prevents states from denying citizens the right to vote on the basis of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Quickly following, however, Southern states passed Jim Crow laws, hindering African Americans and poor white citizens from voting through poll taxes, literacy tests, grandfather clauses and other restrictions. Under Jim Crow, only 3% of Blacks were registered to vote in the south.

1910-1920: By the incredible advocacy of women and a number of states enacting voting rights for women, the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920 provided women voting rights. However, Black women remained impeded from voting.

1924: Native Americans were granted voting rights through the Indian Citizenship Act, even though some states kept them from voting until 1948.

1965: For the entire time under Jim Crow, African American advocates fought and sacrificed for voting rights. The Voting Rights of 1965 helped correct discriminating laws and practices.

1965-2020: A number of states have attempted to make it more difficult to vote by implementing voter ID laws, reducing funding for polling places, limiting mail-in and absentee voting, and restricting early voting.

2021: Thirty-three states are actively considering legislation limiting opportunities for citizens to exercise their right to vote. For example, Georgia and Iowa recently passed legislation making it more difficult to vote. These laws will have a direct effect on lower-income citizens and minority communities.

In Iowa, early voting was reduced from 29 days to 20 days. Iowans will also have less time to cast their ballots on election day, as polls will now close an entire hour earlier. This decision could hinder thousands of voters who work overtime or run late from picking children up at daycare or dropping them off at evening activities. Other restrictions make it more difficult to cast an absentee ballot.

In Georgia, the bill will reduce the availability of absentee voting, restricting it to voters who are 65 and older, who have a physical disability or who will be out of town. Voter ID components of the law will make it a requirement to provide a driver’s license number, state ID number or other identification.

Voting rights advocates in Georgia point out how the bill unfairly targets Black communities, especially efforts by Black churches in their “Souls to the Polls” Sundays.  Black churches have been working hard to get their communities to engage and participate in elections. By eliminating Sunday voting, the law will pretty much kill the program as designed and intended.

Proponents of such legislation argue that they are only attempting to keep the integrity of elections intact. These lawmakers continue to express concern about 2020 voting irregularities, even though such allegations have been declared unfounded numerous times by election officials and courts.

Critics point out that the laws unfairly target minority and lower-income communities in an attempt to reduce voter turnout. By limiting access and placing more stringent requirements to vote, many Black leaders fear a return to Jim Crow standards of voting requirements.

Voting laws that target Black communities and discourage Black turnout spit on the grave of John Lewis and many others who spent their lives working to ensure future generations would not fear Jim Crow and voter suppression. They dreamed of the day when every Black citizen could feel their vote was welcomed and respected.

Unfortunately, there are those who still hold to the philosophy of the late political strategist Paul Weyrich who honestly and infamously declared, “They want everybody to vote. I don’t want everybody to vote.”

“Elections are not won by a majority of people, they never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now,” he said. “As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”

Put simply, those whose goal is only to retain power and control make it harder to vote. Those whose goal is to ensure every citizen can have their voice heard through the ballot box make it easier to vote. The latter can be done securely.

If there were one sign to gauge the health of our democracy, then we need not look any further than voting rights.

The United States has always been at its best when the country provides voting rights to more citizens and empowers them to exercise that right. We are a healthier democracy and a more perfect union when more citizens are involved and engaged.

As people of good faith, we must remember the life, words and legacy of John Lewis. We must get in the way of injustices by stepping up and speaking out.

Lewis reminded us, “Nothing can stop the power of a committed and determined people to make a difference in our society. Why? Because human beings are the most dynamic link to the divine on this planet.”

Therefore, let the Beloved Community continue to do the work of the Lord within this world. Let us make certain the most vulnerable, the poor, the sick, the marginalized and the oppressed are represented and heard.

In a democratic republic like the United States, that means advocating for the voting rights of all citizens and giving more citizens the opportunity to vote.

Mitch Randall headshot

CEO of Good Faith Media.

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Freedom of Speech Is Not the Absence of Responsibility – Mitch Randall

 Søren Kierkegaard once quipped, “People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.”

The Danish philosopher and theologian provides us with an accurate backdrop for the terrifying events that unfolded on January 6 in Washington D.C.

Insurrectionists, inspired by former President Donald J. Trump’s false claims of a stolen, fraudulent election and his fiery speech on Jan. 6, broke into the U.S. Capitol, killing police officer Brian Sicknick.

Before the former president’s term ended, the U.S. House of Representatives impeached the president for a second time, stating, “Donald John Trump engaged in high Crimes and Misdemeanors by inciting violence against the Government of the United States.”

This week, at the former president’s second impeachment trial, the term “freedom of speech” is being cited frequently by his lawyers and supporters as they argue for his acquittal by the U.S. Senate.

Trump’s lawyers and supporters argue that the former president cannot be held accountable for his speech because it is constitutionally protected under the First Amendment.

While freedom of speech is a sacred right for all U.S. citizens, Trump’s argument fails at the point of honest assessment and application.

Without getting lost in the woods of legal jargon, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled numerous times that freedom of speech can be limited for several reasons:

  • Inciting actions that would harm others (Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47, 1919).
  • Making or distributing obscene materials (Roth v. United States, 354 U.S. 476, 1957).
  • Burning draft cards as an anti-war protest (United States v. O’Brien, 391 U.S. 367, 1968).

The court recognizes that words are extremely important in a free society. Words define. Words inspire. Words incite.

While freedom of speech is a sacred right, it is not absolute. As former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt pointed out, “Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility.”

Freedom is not the absence of responsibility. On the contrary, freedom relies on both personal and social responsibility.

As individuals, we have the responsibility to utilize speech for the common good. As a just society, we have the responsibility to protect the rights of all citizens, especially when the tension of rights is present.

Over his 29 years on the bench, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes (1841-1935) wrote extensively on freedom of speech.

Holmes engineered the “Clear and Present Danger” test to guide his opinions regarding freedom of speech. He wrote in Schenck v United States (1919), “Whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.”

Holmes’ “Clear and Present Danger” test was replaced in the 1950s by the “Preferred Position Doctrine.” This doctrine acknowledged a hierarchy of constitutional rights, noting that some freedoms garner preference over others.

Interpreting constitutional rights and freedoms through this lens ushered in a new understanding of individual liberties and civil rights.

For example, can a citizen use speech to discriminate against another citizen? Can a shopkeeper cite freedom of speech as a defense for hanging a “Whites Only” sign on their front door?

As one can witness, constitutional freedoms are not always absolute. There are instances when a “preferred position” of rights must intervene, establishing one right over another.

Therefore, as Trump’s lawyers and supporters argue that the former president’s speech is constitutionally protected, an important question begs to be asked: “Why is the former president’s right to free speech more important than Officer Brian Sicknick’s right to live?”

It’s not.

While freedom of speech is an essential component to a thriving democracy, when a citizen uses speech to incite violence against another citizen, then the latter’s right to live outweighs the former’s right to speak.

More so, citizens must begin to realize that freedom of speech does not divorce a person from responsibility. Actions, even when they are merely words, have consequences.

We would all do well to follow Kierkegaard’s advice to think before speaking, but we would also do well to follow the urging of James 3:5-6 and tame our tongues.

Mitch Randall headshot

CEO of Good Faith Media.

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Gratitude

Gratitude

For days spent

And those yet unspent,

For bridges crossed

And those yet uncrossed.

For friendships made

And those yet to be made,

For hurdles conquered

And those yet to be conquered,

For loves that abide

And loves denied,

I raise my voice in gratitude.

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The Work of the Spirit – Rev. Andrew Shull – FBC Woodruff, SC

First Baptist Church in Woodruff, South Carolina, where I serve as pastor, has a long and very interesting history.  Tariff Acts were passed in 1828 & 1832 that adversely affected the economy of the southern states.  Under the leadership of John C. Calhoun, South Carolina voted to “nullify” the federal tariffs.  President Andrew Jackson threatened to send federal troops to SC to enforce their collection.  In Woodruff, loyalties in our church were split between the federal government and the state government.

  1. B. Woodruff describes “a terrible convulsion that shook the church to its very center, and came very near breaking it into atoms. The difficulty grew and increased until the church was literally torn into two distinct factions.  Hard sayings were indulged, bitter feelings ensued, and the future of the church was exceedingly dark.”

After numerous attempts at resolution, the Bethel Association asked the church to hold a day of fasting and prayer to “lay aside all party spirit and hardness, to forgive one another and unite as a band of Christians in the spirit of meekness.”  The day ended with the members forming a line in front of the church.  While hymns were sung, they went up and down the line giving each other expressions of forgiveness, fellowship and love.  It became “a time of general joy.”

  1. B. Woodruff ends his account by stating, “This was the settlement of this mighty difficulty, but like the ocean after being swept by some grand storm continues to lash and foam and fret long after the storm has died away, so the angry passions that had been raised in this tumultuous strife yielded slowly but steadily to the pressure of brotherly love which was re-occupying the hearts of those Christians. Satan was vanquished, but he retired muttering and sullen from a position he once thought was impregnable.”

It is natural to nurse hurts, flame the fires of bitterness, keep track of any offense or slight, hold grudges, keep wounds open and occasionally throw in some salt.  But we do ourselves great harm when we chose to live that way.

There is a better way to live.  It involves swallowing our pride – regardless of who is right and who is wrong, humbling ourselves, extending mercy and forgiveness, and receiving the healing that comes through the Lord.  Christians are commanded to: go the extra mile (Matthew 5:41); settle disagreements and disputes quickly (Matthew 5:23-25); be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9); love and pray for those who mistreat us (Matthew 5:44); forgive (Matthew 6:14-15); speak “only what is helpful for building others up” (Ephesians 4:29) and entrust themselves (their injuries and hurts) to God who judges justly (1 Peter 2:21-23.)  Christians are people who know what it is to be forgiven –  for they have experienced God’s incredible grace and mercy.  And they are people who know how to forgive – because you can’t really experience God’s forgiveness without it changing your heart.  Jesus said, “He who has been forgiven little loves little” (Luke 7:47.)

From our earliest years, we learn, often the hard way, the right things to say and the right things to do.  We learn what is acceptable, what will allow us to fit into our families, have friends and keep our jobs.  We learn how to monitor our words and behavior.  Whatever your job, there are some things you just won’t do.  Not because you don’t want to, but because of the consequences.  But sometimes we surprise ourselves and we say something or do something we thought was uncharacteristic.  Where did that come from?  It comes from our heart.  Jesus teaches us “For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34.)  We may learn to monitor our words and actions but we often let things like anger, hurt, jealousy, pride, resentment and selfishness get lodged in our heart.  We let things that happened years ago control us for they have been allowed to grow in the darkness.  Solomon writes, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23.)  Your heart affects everything.

Jesus, the Great Physician, can change our hearts.  His grace can work in us from the inside out.  He can take what is broken and use it for our good and for the good of others.  He can address not just the symptoms but the root causes.  Because of His great love for us we can become people who genuinely love others and reflect that love not just in our choice of words and actions but also in our hearts.  “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26.)

 

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