Grace Cathedral

Grace Cathedral

Article | October 7, 2021

End Slavery for Good

Blog|The Rev. Canon Anna E. Rossi

Endorsed by the Dean, Chapter and Clergy

Did you know that slavery is still legal in the United States? We are led to believe that the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution abolished slavery and “involuntary servitude,” or forced labor, but a close read of the text shows otherwise. The 13th Amendment — as well as many state constitutions — contains a loophole that makes forced labor legal as punishment for a crime, called “the punishment clause.”  

Forcing one person to work for the benefit of another, especially when applied disproportionately to Black and Brown communities, offers no authentic pathway of restitution for victims of crime or rehabilitation for prisoners. As Anglican Christians, we are committed to dignity for all people, and stand against slavery in its many guises. Grace Cathedral joins our Diocesan Bishop Marc Andrus, and Presiding Bishop MIchael Curry, and endorses the movement to end slavery for good. 

Our endorsement of a movement means taking the courageous step to advocate with decision-makers in state and federal government at critical junctures, as we did with Proposition 17 in 2020. It means studying the issues together, and developing a shared understanding of the substance and process that will create lasting change. It also means developing and deepening relationships with the most impacted communities, with people who suffer generational trauma and structural poverty because the work of emancipation is not finished. 

A just society requires that criminals be accountable for their crimes. It requires impartial decisions by judges and juries of peers, and systems of incarceration that equitably enforce the decisions of the courts. The possibility of profiting from slave labor in jails and prisons poses a clear conflict of interest to equitable enforcement. Removing the punishment clause is a necessary step in restoring a just role for jails and prisons in upholding the rule of law. 

Grace Cathedral joins diverse religious and civic groups in the movement to end slavery. Our endorsement arises from distinct ethical commitments, including the God-given dignity of all people, the divine virtue of mercy, and our tradition of inquiry. In particular, when something appears to be “free” — like slave labor — we know from economics as well as ethics that those costs are always borne elsewhere. We must ask and name for ourselves the human, social, and environmental impacts of slave labor, and resolve and take tangible steps to heal them. Endorsing the movement to end slavery is the first step. 

Stand with Grace, stand with justice, stand for all. Over the next 18 months, there will be opportunities to learn the issues, frame them in light of Anglican Christian ethics, develop meaningful relationships, and advocate with elected officials. An issue of this magnitude invites the active participation of the whole community, and has a place for everyone, including you.  

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