In 2020 the California Legislature created the Reparations Task Force and gave it three principal tasks: (1) to research and document the history of African American slavery and discrimination; (2) to recommend appropriate ways to educate the public about the Task Force’s findings; and (3) to recommend appropriate remedies of compensation, rehabilitation, and restitution for African Americans, with a special consideration for descendants of persons enslaved in the United States.
Grace Cathedral’s Social Justice Working Group, which includes clergy, trustees, staff, Congregation Council members, and volunteers, has been following the progress of the Task Force. As noted, civil rights attorney and Task Force member Don Tamaki explained in his guest homily at the Juneteenth Choral Eucharist, the Task Force has achieved much more than that. Their final report will contain a devastating historical account, a call for official reckoning and apology, an ambitious communications plan, and policy recommendations that address criminal justice and policing, access to housing, education, and employment opportunities, reducing health disparities, environmental mitigation, and investments in infrastructure and cultural resources. Some recommendations would require large public outlays, but others would not, and costs could be spread over time. People in the Grace Cathedral community and the Diocese of California who know about The Episcopal Church’s advocacy work will recognize many of the recommendations, not necessarily through the lens of reparations but as sound policy proposals with a moral underpinning consistent with our values, beliefs, and policy goals.
The statewide task force will disband soon, and its recommendations will be taken up by the legislature. All of the recommendations will require legislation, whether to create new programs, restructure existing ones, enact new legal protections, or eliminate unfair regimes. The debate may look like Sacramento politics as usual, but we shouldn’t recoil from that. Politics and law can be powerful tools for righteousness despite the fact that, as the Task Force’s findings demonstrate, they can also be instruments of oppression. The public square will be filled in the coming months with talk about the cost, proportionality, fairness, legality, and practicality of reparations. The moral reasoning that our religious tradition offers must not go unheard. In the Episcopal liturgy, we pray for the newly baptized to receive an inquiring and discerning heart and the courage to will and persevere. May we have those gifts within us as we listen, learn, and evaluate the ideas and proposals that emerge in the next phase of reparations.
This statement reflects Grace Cathedral’s ongoing commitment to social justice. While social justice is sometimes what we do — issue-based advocacy, for example — social justice is also how we approach cathedral life: who preaches from the pulpit, the language and structure of prayer, how and what we learn, and the practices of giving and service. Visit the social justice page of the cathedral website and the cathedral’s blog to learn more.
In addition to the End Slavery for Good initiative, Grace Cathedral keeps tabs on ballot measures and legislation that addresses racial justice, gender justice, creation care, and gun violence. There were initiatives in several states on each of these subjects in November.
The Supreme Court majority’s declared intention to recalibrate constitutional protections for individual rights was clearly on the minds of voters. Access to abortion and contraception, which is a question of racial and economic health equity as well as gender justice, was codified by voters in California, Michigan, and Vermont in their state constitutions. Kentucky and Montana rejected measures that would have reduced legal protections for reproductive choice. In Nevada, voters adopted a constitutional amendment stating that equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the state or any of its political subdivisions on account of race, color, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression, age, disability, ancestry or national origin.
Health justice and equity, as more broadly defined, were also on the November ballot. Oregon voters amended their state constitution to grant every resident a fundamental right to cost-effective, clinically appropriate, and affordable health care. South Dakota voters expanded their Medicaid program to cover not only the state’s poorest residents but also people between ages 18 and 65 with incomes at or below 138% of the federal poverty level. South Dakota thus becomes the seventh state in recent years where citizens overrode the objections of their Republican elected officials and voted to take advantage of opportunities in the Affordable Care Act to expand health care access for low-income residents.
Voters in New York approved a $4.2 billion bond measure to protect the health of the community through climate change mitigation, flood-risk reduction, water infrastructure, and land conservation and recreation projects. At least 35% of bond revenue is earmarked for disadvantaged communities. The decision by California voters to reject a proposed income tax surcharge for zero-emission vehicle infrastructure and subsidies appears to be attributable to the mixed motives and messaging of the sponsors rather than misgivings about the pace of clean energy conversion. The Nevada electorate narrowly approved a firearm permit-to-purchase law with mandatory safety training and background checks. Fourteen other states and Washington, D.C., already have such laws. Nevada also joined ten other jurisdictions in banning high-capacity ammunition magazines.
Let us be thankful for the large turnout of voters in the November elections and grateful for people of faith who helped pass significant new measures. Let’s also be hopeful that these expressions of popular democracy will guide and inform our legislators and government officials in the weeks and months to come.
The campaign to eliminate the legal underpinnings of unfree labor gained momentum in the 2022 midterms. Voters in Alabama, Oregon, Tennessee, and Vermont repealed language in their state constitutions that allowed slavery and involuntary servitude to persist in state correctional facilities long after being abolished in every other setting. The votes underscored the importance when drafting these initiatives to take into account the electorate’s questions and concerns as well as their hopes and aspirations.
The Tennessee measure expressly states that eliminating involuntary servitude will not prohibit a duly-convicted inmate from working. The Oregon measure allows court-ordered education, counseling, treatment, community service, or other alternatives to incarceration. An involuntary servitude initiative in Louisiana was defeated after the sponsor called on voters not to adopt the measure because of ambiguous wording. He promised a revised version next year. With a track record of success dating back to Colorado (2018), Nebraska (2020), and Utah (2020), we can look forward to ballot initiatives to stop forced labor wherever it exists being introduced in other states, including California, in upcoming election cycles.
We celebrate the actions of voters in these states while remembering at the same time that social justice is more than political activism. Whether we are drawn toward the policy sphere, called to join one of the cathedral’s social service programs and events, or serving the greater good in the wider world by other means, we are all actors in Christ’s great ministry of justice.
Californians are going to the polls on November 8 to decide whether to establish a fundamental right to reproductive choice, including abortion and contraception, in the California Constitution. While many have voted already, millions of Californians are still wrestling with this question.
The Episcopal Church affirms the sanctity of life from inception and acknowledges the tragedy of abortion. We agree with abortion opponents that the moral dimension is a proper subject for the religious and spiritual sphere. We also believe that the proper forum for reproductive decisions is faith-informed individual conscience, not politico-religious regulation. As Dean Malcolm Young said in a sermon in May on abortion and theology: “Every situation is different. It is not a simple matter that can be easily and permanently resolved. Each person has to decide. No one should be coerced to deviate from their conscience, because that is the place we so often meet God.”
The Episcopal Church opposes any legislative, executive or judicial action on the part of local, state or national governments that abridges the right to act on an informed decision to terminate a pregnancy. The Church is especially concerned that access to abortion and other fundamental rights might once again depend on wealth and mobility.
Its supporters say that a high turnout in favor of Prop. 1 will give pause to those who consider the Supreme Court’s rollback a political opportunity. They warn that abortion is a marker for other gender justice-related privacy rights under threat. Opponents point out that reproductive rights are already protected under California legislation. They claim that the wording of the measure could be interpreted to legalize late-term abortion on demand, contrary to current California law.
Whatever the outcome of Prop. 1, abortion and contraception will still be legal in California on November 9. The hard choices will not be any easier. The Episcopal Church will continue to promote education and awareness, medical as well as pastoral, as an essential component of engaging with issues relating to family planning, child spacing, adoption, infertility and abortion.
The Supreme Court has declared that abortion is a political question. If so, let us go to the polls with a conscience informed by faith.
Confronting climate change and environmental degradation has never been more urgent. As members of The Episcopal Church, we are committed in baptism to resist evil, seek God’s will, treat all people with dignity, and strive for justice and peace. Living into these promises, we must face the climate crisis for the sake of love of God and neighbor.
Statement on Climate and Our Vocation in Christ passed by the House of Bishops during the 80th General Convention of The Episcopal Church, July 11, 2022
Creation care is on the November 2022 California ballot in Proposition 30, which would dedicate between $3.5 and $5 billion in the state’s $300 billion annual budget for the zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) subsidies (45%), ZEV infrastructure (35%), and wildfire suppression and prevention programs (20%). Funding would come from a 1.75% tax on the portion of a taxpayer’s taxable income of more than $2 million. Prop. 30 would sunset in 2043 or earlier if emissions fall below 1990 levels. Half of the funds for ZEV subsidies would be allocated to programs that benefit people in low-income and disadvantaged communities.
Earth stewardship is an abiding imperative of the Episcopal Church. Members are encouraged to advocate for legislation that incentivizes our nation’s transition to a safe, clean, renewable energy economy and supports good jobs in new clean-energy industries, as well as the strong implementation of new technologies to meet new energy standards. The Church has urged Congress to enact clean energy incentives and tax credits to accelerate the clean energy transition and incentivize vehicle electrification. It has also advocated at the federal level for funding for wildfire suppression. While the Church does not delve deeply into tax policy, the General Convention has repeatedly urged the federal government to address income and wealth inequality through a fairer, more progressive tax system.
Supporters and opponents of Prop. 30 agree that reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a crucial end goal. For those who support the measure, Prop. 30 is a straightforward means for the public to accelerate California’s transition away from fossil fuels and reduce catastrophic wildfires at no cost to taxpayers except the wealthiest 0.2%. Opponents respond that California is already funding electric vehicle programs and wildfire protection. They argue that debating competing goals and alternative means through the legislative budget process is preferable to earmarking taxes through an initiative process that special interests can manipulate.
Our Episcopal tradition encourages thoughtful discernment in all things related to our values and beliefs. We encourage you to review the arguments for and against Prop. 30 in the official Voter Information Guide, campaign websites, and trustworthy media sources. As always, Grace encourages everyone to exercise their right to vote.
ACA 3 did not make it past the finish line in the California legislature before the June 30th deadline. The bill’s supporters, including Social Justice Working Group members, were working in the final hours to craft language acceptable to Senators from both sides of the aisle who were concerned about fiscal and operational implications. Sadly, the clock ran out. We have been in touch with the bill’s author and the advocacy groups who have expressed their gratitude for the calls and messages to legislators from people at Grace and other Episcopal institutions. There will be renewed efforts to get the question on the November 2024 California ballot. Grace Cathedral’s commitment to faith-based advocacy to End Slavery for Good by all means possible will continue.
On a more positive note, there are several bills on the Working Group’s radar that are advancing through the California legislature to address the challenges facing persons who leave prison with limited resources and a lack of means to support themselves and their families.
SB 1371 (Bradford) would require the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to develop a 5-year plan to increase inmate compensation to the level where they have enough money for personal items, educational materials, and to communicate with their families.
The first days after someone is released from prison can be extremely challenging. Currently CDCR gives inmates $200 in “gate money” on the day they leave. This amount has not changed since 1973. If SB 1304 (Kamlager) is adopted, the release allowance will increase to $1300.
SB 936 (Glazer) would establish a residential Forestry Management Training Center in Northern California to train former inmates in forestry and vegetation management to reduce the risk of deadly wildfires. Graduates would be eligible for entry-level forestry positions throughout the state.
These bills have passed the California Senate with strong bipartisan support and are awaiting action in the Assembly. If you would like to get involved, contact your elected representatives (https://findyourrep.legislature.ca.gov/) and let them know what you think.
We can end slavery for good.
We want to rectify the moral error in our state constitution that allows slavery as punishment for a crime. The legislative process to allow California voters to strike slavery from the constitution in the November 2022 ballot is close — and needs your help to get it to the finish line. There are four state senators that have not committed their votes to the revised End Slavery in California Act.
The vote will take place at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, June 29. Convey the importance of their vote and contact them by phone or email using the sample message below.
Legislation Alert (June 28, 2022)
Key Senators to contact regarding ACA 3 (End Slavery in California Act) as amended
“I encourage Senator ___ to vote in favor of ACA 3, the End Slavery in California Act, as amended on June 27, 2022. ACA 3 is expected to come up for floor vote in the Senate on June 29, 2022. [OPTIONAL: I support ACA 3 as a person of faith. I am a member of the congregation of _______ in _______, CA.]”
Senator Richard Roth (D-Riverside)one: (916) 651-4031
Phone: (916) 651-4031 | Email: https://sd31.senate.ca.gov/send-e-mail
Senator Anna Caballero (D-Madera, Merced, Monterey, San Benito)
Phone: (916) 651-4012 | Email: https://sd12.senate.ca.gov/contact/message
Senator Bob Archuleta (D-Los Angeles, Orange)
Phone: (916) 651-4032 | Email: https://sd32.senate.ca.gov/contact/message
Senator Ben Hueso (D-Imperial, San Diego)
Phone: (916) 651-4040 | Email: https://sd40.senate.ca.gov/contact/email
The End Slavery in California Act would put a measure on the November 2022 California ballot to amend the state constitution as follows:
ARTICLE I, SEC. 6.
(a) Slavery, in any form, including involuntary servitude, is prohibited.
(b) For purposes of this section, slavery includes forced labor compelled by the use or threat of physical or legal coercion.
(c) This section is not intended to have any effect on voluntary work programs in correctional settings.
Download Legislation Alert and write to state senators to #EndSlaveryForGood.
Legislation to put an initiative on the November ballot to eliminate the section of the state constitution that allows involuntary servitude-forced labor compelled by the use or threat of physical or legal coercion – is making progress in the state legislature. Yesterday the Senate voted 21-6 in favor of Assembly Constitutional Amendment 3. San Francisco’s Scott Weiner and East Bay Sen. Nancy Skinner voted aye. We are grateful for the Grace community members who reached out to legislators in support of ACA 3.
Because the bill requires a supermajority, the author, Sen. Sydney Kamlager, prepared a technical amendment to address bipartisan questions about the fiscal impact while maintaining the ethical weight and urgency of the legislation. Members of the Social Justice Working Group have contacted legislators and advocates supporting the amendment. It must be adopted by the Senate and Assembly by June 30. Be assured that we are closely watching the process as it unfolds.
There will be another update with information about how the Grace community can help push ACA 3 over the finish line on Tuesday, June 28 from 6:15 to 7 pm. This meeting will also be an opportunity to learn more about the measure under consideration for the November ballot that would codify reproductive freedom in the state constitution.
“What can someone like me possibly do?” This question is echoing in the minds of Americans as they absorb the news of another mass shooting. For many of us, quiet reflection and prayer are all we can bring ourselves to do right now. Let’s not dismiss thoughts and prayers as insipid or inadequate. For faithful people, they are a refuge rather than a retreat to a place where, as the letter to the Ephesians suggests, we go to be fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.
Faithful people have always played an important role in moving our country forward in dark times. Few people go to church these days to win the good citizenship award, but the truth is that God does equip us to be engaged citizens and community leaders. We can check up on friends and neighbors in grief or at risk, practice responsible gun ownership, listen to the voices of children, and yes, send the umpteenth letter to our elected representatives.
Speaking of which, The Episcopal Church advocates at the national level for common sense firearms legislation and violence prevention. The church recognizes gun violence as a public health problem rooted in despair and discrimination, as well as an oversupply of dangerous weapons. The Episcopal Church has endorsed legislation before Congress to extend the Brady Act background check requirement to private sales and licensed dealers and allow more time for background checks to be completed.
The Episcopal Church supports “permit to purchase” laws that require gun buyers to complete firearm safety training, “red flag” laws that allow the authorities to take away weapons from individuals who present an imminent danger to themselves or others, adequate funding for mental health services, school safety, and anti-bullying programs, and research to help us understand which gun violence interventions are effective.
People like us can speak up. We can lead by example. Our children will know that we were not silent. Learn more about The Episcopal Church’s work in advocating for gun violence prevention and how you can get involved.