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John Lewis rallies Black clergy to restore the Voting Rights Act

By Adelle M. Banks/Religion News Service
On July 7, 2015
Rep. John Lewis

Credit: Adelle Banks/RNS

On the second anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that removed key provisions of the Voting Rights Act, civil rights veteran and Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), urged Black clergy to fight back.

“It’s time again for religious leaders, the ministers of the gospel, to get in trouble,” said Congressman Lewis during a June 25 briefing to Progressive National Baptist Convention (PNBC) pastors at the Rayburn House Office Building.

They gathered two years after the 2013 Supreme Court ruling, Shelby County v. Holder, which invalidated a Justice Department review of new voting regulations in states with a history of voting discrimination. “There are forces in our country, in Washington and all around America, want to take us back. But we’re not going back. We’ve made too much progress. We’re going forward,” said Lewis.

Lewis is one of the co-sponsors of the Voting Rights Advancement Act that was introduced June 24 and seeks to restore the portions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act removed by the nation’s highest court.

The gathering of about 70 PNBC pastors and other religious leaders headed to lawmakers’ offices to press for changes in the law. But they also stressed the need for voter registration efforts, even as dozens of state laws have grown more restrictive.

“We look at all of these new voting rights laws as just being the slick packaging of a new way of voter suppression,” said the Rev. James C. Perkins, PNBC president. “There ought not be impediments put in the way to deter people from having access to the ballot box.”

The Rev. Raphael Warnock, pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, said his church registers people to vote when they become new members. “Part of the response to massive voter suppression is massive voter registration and massive voter activation,” said Warnock. “That’s part of the solution.”

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