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INTERFAITH COALITION PROMOTES VOTING AS A MATTER OF FAITH

April 2, 2004, WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A new interfaith coalition of organizations and denominations has been formed to encourage people of faith to proactively engage in the democratic process through voter registration and education efforts. The group, known as “Faithful Democracy,” unveiled its website and other resources in front of Judiciary Square in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday (March 30) and issued a call for people of faith around the country to register and vote in 2004 and beyond.

According to Rob Keithan, one of the co-conveners of the group, making sure that people of faith recognize the importance of civic participation is a key objective of the new coalition, which has been endorsed by 14 faith groups and is still growing.

“Some of the issues at the heart of why people don’t vote -- namely, apathy, cynicism and the feeling that ‘my vote won’t make a difference’ -- have profoundly religious implications,” said Keithan who is also the director of the Washington office of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations.

“We believe that civic participation must be grounded in something larger and more transcendent than the particulars of a given issue, party, or election. It must be grounded in a deeper set of core values, and backed by a community of people that recognize voting as an act of faith,” he said at the launch of the coalition.

The Faithful Democracy website --  www.faithfuldemocracy.org -- will act as a clearinghouse for people of faith to find out what others are doing to promote voter registration and education on the national, state and local level. Visitors to the website will also be able to register online and find links to other organizations for more information about voting, events and activities. For example, “Rock the Native Vote” (RNV) in Oklahoma City, Okla., is an effort that is being organized through the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference of the United Methodist Church and is featured on the website. Through a concert featuring award-winning Native American performers on June 5, the OIMC hopes to register thousands of Native American young adults to vote.

Said Rev. Chebon Kernell, one of the organizers of RNV, “Because of our history and the many issues affecting Native people, it is important for us to be more involved in voter registration and education efforts. We are especially excited about the Faithful Democracy website because it is a place where we can lift up the exciting work we are doing in Oklahoma with Rock the Native Vote. We will also be able to find out more about other voter participation projects in Oklahoma and how we can get involved.”

The group will also educate congregations and faith groups about what can and cannot be done during the elections to encourage people to register and cast their ballots. This is especially important because of the way religion and religious language has been used -- and sometimes, misused -- in political and policy debates in recent elections.

“What we do not do will speak as powerfully as what we do about our belief in the necessity of keeping separate the institutions of religion and the missions of partisan politicians in order to protect both the vitality of democracy and the integrity of religion in the life of our nation,” said Rev. Dr. Welton Gaddy, president of The Interfaith Alliance, which is one of the sponsors of Faithful Democracy.

In his statement endorsing the work of the Faithful Democracy coalition, Mark Pelavin, who is the Associate Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC), noted the decline in voting of American Jews, which at one time had been as high as nearly 90 percent, to just over 50 percent in recent years.

“Our tradition teaches us: ‘Do not separate yourself from the community.’ Civic participation is a mitzvah. Mitzvah is often translated ‘good deed,’ but it is more than that-it is an obligation, a commandment that brings us closer to God,” said Pelavin. RAC is also a sponsor of Faithful Democracy.

Dr. Bernice Powell-Jackson, Executive Minister of Justice & Witness Ministries for the United Church of Christ, said of the coalition, “There is strength in numbers and through Faithful Democracy we will be able to urge millions of people of faith across the country to engage in the democratic process. Voting is not only important this year, but every year. It is our civic responsibility and it is a matter of faith.”

In addition to Keithan, there are two other conveners of the Faithful Democracy coalition: Sandy Sorensen, Associate for Communications and Media Advocacy for the United Church of Christ; and Kim Baldwin, Election Year Program Director for The Interfaith Alliance. Sponsors of the Faithful Democracy coalition include: American Friends Service Committee, The Episcopal Church, Church of the Brethren, Friends Committee on National Legislation, The Interfaith Alliance, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Jewish Council for Public Affairs, National Council of Churches USA, Presbyterian Church (USA), Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, United Church of Christ, and the General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church.

Faithful Democracy is planning collaborative efforts to coincide with July 4th weekend and the second weekend in September (Sept.10-12). Organizations interested in becoming a sponsor of Faithful Democracy and those wanting updated information, should visit www.faithfuldemocracy.org

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Media contact: 202-544-2350 x 11; ltune@ncccusa.org


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