by Jim Simpson and Alma Robinson, on behalf of the Social Justice Working Group
On November 3, California voters adopted Prop. 17 restoring the voting rights of persons on parole. The act of voting gives each citizen a voice in choosing our leaders, shaping how resources are allocated and ultimately, owning a stake in our collective future. The record number of Americans who voted this year and the sharp differences revealed by the results remind us how constant we must be in protecting everyone’s right to vote and how sparing we should be in denying voting rights to anyone.
Grace Cathedral is proud to have been one of many faith-based organizations in California that publicly endorsed Prop. 17, including the Jewish Community Relations Council of San Francisco and the Bay Area, Glide Center for Social Justice, and Faith in Action Bay Area. Among the nearly 10 million Californians who voted in favor of this measure, we are confident that many were inspired by their religious convictions. We thank you all for your support.
Accomplishing the goal of Prop. 17 requires re-engaging people who have been excluded from civic participation, often for many years. The Cathedral encourages the Secretary of State and Department of Corrections to notify parolees and people being prepared for release that the people of California have given them back their voting rights and to help them register to vote online or submit voter registration cards as part of the release and reentry process. To the people whose rights have been restored, Grace Cathedral welcomes you to the community of fully enfranchised Californians.
The decision to endorse Prop. 17 came about through the collective efforts of the trustees, clergy and staff, and congregation members who comprise Grace Cathedral’s Social Justice Working Group, aided by the Social Justice Committee of the lay-led Congregation Council. There was an essay on the Cathedral blog, discussion groups, homilies, and a Forum program that featured Dorsey Nunn, who runs Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and the All of Us or None advocacy network, in conversation with Dean Malcolm Young about the impact of this measure.
After an election as fraught as this one, many people need a break from the daily news cycle and some time to reflect. Grace Cathedral’s social justice advocacy team will use this time to identify emerging issues on which the voice of our faith community and like-minded partners can be meaningful and constructive. The Cathedral has previously identified climate change, gender justice, and racial justice as appropriate subjects for advocacy, as well as concerns about gun violence and housing for vulnerable populations.
One way to build on the momentum of Proposition 17 would be to eliminate the penal servitude exception in the California constitution, which authorizes involuntary servitude as punishment for criminal offenses. Voters in Utah and Nebraska struck penal servitude provisions from their state constitutions in November. We have met with leaders in the growing movement to amend similar language in many state constitutions as well as to repeal and replace the the 13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which was ratified in 1865 and abolished slavery and involuntary servitude in the United States “except as a punishment for crime whereof the party therein shall have been duly convicted….” We welcome your thoughts about social justice initiatives at Grace Cathedral and we promise to keep you informed.