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Article | April 8, 2022

End Slavery for Good: Making the Case for Amending the Constitution

Blog|Jim Simpson

Did you know that there is a loophole in the U.S. Constitution that still allows slavery? The 13th Amendment says slavery and involuntary servitude shall not exist in the United States, except as punishment for being convicted of a crime. In October 2021 Grace Cathedral came out in support of the campaign to remove the slavery loophole from the constitution. Congregation members are making the case to friends and neighbors why closing the loophole deserves their support. Members of the Social Justice Working Group and Congregation Council have developed some talking points that you might want to consider using as you have these conversations.

1. History tells us that allowing slavery in any form opens the door to more. After the 13th Amendment was adopted in 1865, southern states made it a crime for former slaves to be idle or homeless. They were imprisoned on work farms or hired out to landowners. The 13th Amendment couldn’t put a stop to it because of the slavery loophole. Closing the loophole won’t cause dangerous criminals to be released or require the elimination of prison work requirements. What it will do is give us confidence that what happened after the Civil War won’t be allowed to happen again to anyone.  

2. Some people say that if you commit the crime, you should serve the time. The question we should be asking is, what kind of time? Should prisoners risk their lives to fight fires and get paid next to nothing? Should companies profit from cheap prison labor? We as a society should be exploring other options.

3. Legislators and policymakers have an easy excuse for not addressing prison working conditions when the Constitution gives carte blanche. Closing the slavery loophole will help them get serious.

4. Some people say that closing the slavery loophole is just a symbolic gesture. Yet choosing to keep slavery in the constitution is also symbolic. Which symbolism is right for our times?

5. The support for End Slavery for Good crosses political boundaries. Conservative states like Utah and Nebraska have been leading the way by removing the slavery loophole from their state constitutions. People from many denominations and religious institutions are part of this movement.

Can you see yourself making the case to your friends and neighbors? What approach would you take with them? What other points would you make? Look for more ideas and conversations about this issue as Grace Cathedral’s End Slavery for Good initiative continues in the coming months.

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