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OCTOBER 18, 2004

 

 

 

Open letter to politicians:
Address the crying needs of ordinary Americans

Bishops, Catholic Charities comment on ballot propositions

COMMENTARY

 

Open letter to politicians:
Address the crying needs
of ordinary Americans

The following is an open letter written by the members of the Clergy Committee of the Pacific Institute for Community Organizations.

America is in crisis. Our population is polarized. Partisan anger divides and conquers. Multitudes feel disenfranchised and disillusioned, opting not even to vote. The democracy we have treasured for over two centuries is at risk. We know from Scripture and experience that “a house divided cannot stand.” (Mark 3:26)

As clergy who participate in PICO – a national grassroots network since 1973 that has brought together ordinary people across the country to improve their communities – we join our voices with millions of Americans to call upon our government to be partners with us in supporting families and communities.

Our “New Voices Campaign” gives voice to the men, women and children of our communities that otherwise are silenced by the heavily financed political campaigns. While the voices are new, the cries of pain are old. As Scripture says, “If these were silent, the very stones would shout out.”

PICO is made up of 50 local and regional federations representing more than a thousand religious congregations, 60 different denominations and faith traditions and a million families in 150 cities nationwide. We are faith-based but take not one dollar from government. We seek to be prophetic but not partisan.

Our vision of human community is based on broadly shared beliefs about justice and love, not narrow ideologies. Rooted in biblical and civic values that have made America great, we are committed to a vision of religion that unifies, rather than divides, our communities and our nation.

Across the country on weekends in October, 35 PICO New Voices Assemblies have been and will be held. These large public meetings involve Republican and Democratic congresspersons and senators, along with mayors, city council members and other local and state officials. These non-partisan events lift up innovative strategies in five policy areas critical to families of America.

As clergy of PICO, we call for our elected leadership in every level of government to consider with us the moral dimensions of these crying needs of ordinary Americans:

Affordable housing. Decent and affordable housing is the cornerstone of family and community. There is more at stake even than continuing the American Dream. Home ownership opportunities must be increased as evidence of our national commitment to family values.

Education. The youth of today are our hope for the future. Failure to ensure that the next generation is given reason to believe they can succeed is the beginning of the end of any society. There is no future for America unless all young people begin to receive an excellent education preparing them for college or work.

Public safety. Communities and neighborhoods are deteriorating as public money is being diverted away from local police protection to fund wars on other shores. We make a mockery of the fundamental human need for security if dollars to protect the homeland are not matched by dollars to make our hometowns safe.

Health care. A society that truly cares about human life can never allow access to health care to be considered a privilege rather than a right. It is our duty to protect children in particular. Not to do so constitutes neglect. It is shameful that the wealthiest nation in the history of the world does not guarantee, at the very least, that every child will be provided quality health care.

Immigration. The immigration system is broken. As a matter of fundamental fairness, if not from an appreciation of our centuries-long American tradition of welcoming the stranger, we are compelled to find new ways to reunite families divided by borders and to protect those tax-paying workers upon whose labor our economy depends.

God has immensely blessed our nation with democracy, providing persons of all faiths, or of no religious affiliation, with opportunities to work together to help shape our shared public life. We believe that government is a gift from God and that it has a crucial role in supporting our efforts to build strong communities.

| Our experience, however, is that government increasingly seems unable, or unwilling, to respond to the most basic needs of ordinary Americans. Facing overwhelming fiscal crises, our local and state governments are failing to produce affordable housing, laying off teachers, reducing police protection, closing health clinics and ignoring the needs of immigrant working families. The shrinking of federal dollars devoted to domestic priorities is creating a crisis in our local communities.

Our purpose in bringing “New Voices” into conversation with public officials is to provide moral substance to the shaping of national policy. It is the responsibility of government in a democratic society to ensure that fiscal priorities reflect the common good and the interests of our children. The millions of Americans organized by PICO are devoted to laying the groundwork for bipartisan legislative action during the 109th Congress. We seek to put a human face on political decisions, flesh and blood on bureaucratic statistics, the Spirit-breath of life into government actions.

Our great country has been truly blessed by God’s spirit. But the continuation of this blessing is conditional upon our faithful response to God’s call that we protect and provide for the needs of all Americans, including the least of those among us. As Isaiah prophesies,
“The spirit of the Lord God is upon (us) and has sent (us) to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners and to proclaim the year of God’s favor.” (Isaiah 61:1-2)

America is indeed in crisis. The “year of God’s favor” awaits our response. We call upon our public leaders to join with us in praying for our nation – not with words only – but with prayers that translate into political action that strengthens our families and builds human community.
“God is about to do a new thing,” the prophet proclaims. “Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:19)

New voices. New spirit. New politics. Working together, we pray that America might become worthy of God’s continual blessing.


Bishops, Catholic Charities comment
on ballot propositions

The California Catholic Conference of Bishops and Catholic Charities of California have spoken out on five ballot propositions to face the voters in November, taking stands for or against the proposals based on issues of justice and Church teaching.

The conference is opposing Prop. 71, which would provide bond money for embryonic stem cell research, and supporting Prop. 66, which would modify the state’s “Three Strikes” law. Catholic Charities has come out for Prop. 63, which would increase mental health services, and opposes Props. 68 and 70, which would expand gambling in California.

Prop. 71. The bishops have vigorously opposed this proposal, which would fund embryonic stem cell research with up to $3 million in state funds to buy up to $3 billion in bonds. The research would require the destruction of human embryos and would include cloning, both contrary to Church teaching. Moreover, the bishops state, the financial arrangements would create a “boondoggle,” benefiting pharmaceutical and biotech companies.
The bishops also note that although the benefits of stem cell therapy are still far from certain, state funds would underwrite the research while basic health care and other essential services are being cut. They also object to the proposition’s prohibition on oversight of the institute created to conduct the research. Neither the governor nor the legislature could control how the funds would be spent.

Prop. 66. Ten years after Californians passed a “three strikes” law, requiring sentences of 25 years to life for violent offenders convicted of a third felony, this initiative would amend the law so that a third offense would have to be a violent or serious felony. The bishops note that 65 percent of those serving “third strike” sentences in California have been convicted of nonviolent petty offenses such as drug possession or shoplifting.

Although the amended law would ease penalties for such offenses, it would increase punishments for certain sex offenses against minors. Californians should support the proposition, the bishops say, because it would save taxpayers hundreds of millions in prison costs, bring the three strikes law into line with what voters originally intended, and “recognize that the dignity of the human person applies to both the victim and the offender.” It would not automatically release violent offenders.

Prop. 63. If passed, the proposition would extend an experimental program begun five years ago to provide outreach and services to the mentally ill with medical care, housing, medicine, vocational training and social rehabilitation. Catholic Charities of California executive director Rick Mockler notes that this program “has significantly reduced homelessness and crime in the select areas where it has been tried.”

The new law would generate about $275 million in fiscal year 2005-06 and $800 million in 2006-07 from a 1 percent charge on taxable incomes above $ 1 million. It would provide dedicated funding to counties to expand mental health services and prohibit the state from decreasing services below the current level.

Prop 68 and Prop. 70. These two measures are “raising greatest alarm for Catholic Charities,” Mockler states, because they would “vastly expand gambling in California.” He notes that “many of those who frequent casinos simply can’t afford to be there,” and casinos disproportionately appeal “to people living on the economic edge.” He adds, “Those of us at Catholic Charities have seen this exploitation first hand.”

Although Prop. 68 claims to be aimed to making tribal gaming casinos pay their fair share, it would primarily result in the expansion of non-tribal gambling. These non-tribal casinos would have to turn over 33 percent of net revenue to the state but would be exempt from certain tax increases. Prop. 70 would increase the games allowed in tribal casinos, allow expansion into urban areas, impose 99-year contracts between gaming tribes and the state and limit the revenue the state could collect.

“Prop. 70 would likely create a financial drain on local governments,” Mockler states,” and although Prop. 68 might dedicate new revenue to the state, it “is not worth the social problems it would create.” Tribal gaming so far has been of little benefit to California’s Native Americans, he states, and Catholic Charities believes that “there are better ways to generate revenue or resources than to permit exploitation of the poor.”


 

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