Written by Barb Powell
The United Church of Christ’s General Synod decisively adopted a statement brought to the floor July 2 calling on the church to publicly support voter’s rights through public statements, advocacy and actions. The approved resolution was in response to the Supreme Court’s decision a week ago to strike down part of the Voting Rights Act as unconstitutional.
The resolution was presented by the Council for Racial and Ethnic Ministries, and calls for three actions: First, that the officers of the church issue a statement on the decision. Second, that the UCC’s Justice and Witness Ministries calls on Congress and state legislatures to pass laws that empower voters and address any discriminatory voting laws. Third, that JWM works with faith-based movements to lead the faith voices on the matter.
On Tuesday, June 25, the Supreme Court of the United States struck down part of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 as unconstitutional, something UCC leaders said could be a hindrance to the democratic process.
“The call must go forth for the United Church of Christ to valiantly stand against the insidiousness of racism and to fight for the rights of all citizens to have access to the ballot,” the statement reads. “The UCC must take the lead among Christian denominations and other faith traditions in bringing our prophetic voice to bear in this hour. Our denomination has stood as a faith leader to justice in this nation and once again we must answer the clarion call to act. For such a time as this, God has called the United Church of Christ to stand in the watchtower and call for God’s vision of justice everywhere.”
In its decision, the Supreme Court ruled that a specific section of the VRA is unconstitutional and cannot be used since the map does not reflect "current conditions" of voter discrimination. The slim majority of the court –– via a divisive 5-4 ruling –– based the ruling on the fact that Section 4 of the VRA violates the Constitution's guarantee of equality among the states.
The Supreme Court examined Sections 4 and 5 of the VRA, which was passed in 1965 by Congress to prevent discrimination of voters in parts of the country with a history of voting discrimination. Section 4 lays out a formula that maps which state and local governments have a history of racial bias. The VRA's Section 5 clause required those state and local governments to notify Washington, D.C., to any changes to voting laws.
Though the court didn't strike down the law entirely, it became significantly crippled. Although Section 5 remains constitutional, it is ineffective unless Congress can develop a new formula to map which parts of the country to which it pertains.
The UCC's General Synod has long supported voting rights and addressing obstacles to participation in the electoral process within the broader context of the civil rights struggle. The General Synod witness around voting rights is grounded in the understanding that justice cannot be achieved unless the rules governing the democratic process are fair to all.