Over 50 years ago, many Jews - including members of GJC - were heavily involved in the civil rights movement that culminated in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In fact, both of these acts were physically drafted at the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center in Washington, DC. That was because the Jewish tradition of justice and equality before the law pushed us to stand with those whose basic rights - including the right to vote - were being denied to them unjustly, just as such rights had been denied to Jews in many lands in the past. With the passage of laws protecting the right to vote, we thought the battle had been won. So it is particularly hard to believe that the most basic of rights in a democracy, the right to vote, is now being attacked again.
The Voter ID law passed by the Pennsylvania legislature and signed by the governor places unreasonable obstacles in the way of those who are trying to exercise this right. Despite claims that this law is intended to prevent voter fraud, the state admits that it cannot point to even one case of in-person voter fraud that would necessitate such a law. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania citizens, registered voters who lack the kind of ID required by the law, will be prevented from voting. And research has shown that the law has a disproportional impact on minority neighborhoods, the elderly, and the poor, who are the citizens least likely to have the required ID.
A court case challenging the constitutionality of this unjust law is in progress, and plans to urge the legislature to repeal the law may be next. But in the meantime, we must act to try to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to vote. Rev. Kevin Johnson, the Pastor of Bright Hope Baptist Church, at 12th Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue in North Philadelphia, has called on clergy and congregations of all faiths to join him and his congregation at a rally at his church this Sunday, August 12, at 6:00 PM. Rabbi Lewis and I will be attending this rally and exploring together with other clergy how we can be effective in making sure that justice is served and that our democracy truly represents the voices of all of its citizens. This is not a partisan issue but an issue of basic equality and fairness. So no matter what your political preferences, I hope you will join Rabbi Lewis and myself at the rally on Sunday. Please feel free to be in touch with me to talk about this issue - it is one that should concern us all.