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National Council of Churches USA
and Church World Service
General Assembly, November, 2005

Resolutions, Statements and Pastoral Messages

Resolution on the Threat to Civil and Religious Liberties in Post-9/11 America
Resolution on Just Rebuilding of the Gulf Coast
Resolution to Reaffirm Commitment to the Voting Rights Act
A Statement on the Disavowal of Torture
Pastoral Message on Alexandria
Pastoral Message on Constantinople

Resolution on the Threat to Civil and Religious Liberties in Post – 9/11 America 
Adopted by the General Assembly November 9, 2005 

Civil and religious liberties, while affirmed under secular constructs that were formed by our national and world communities based on generations of human social interaction, are grounded in the religious conviction that all human beings reflect the divine imprint and are thus worthy of respect.  These principles protect and seek to nurture the fundamental freedoms that men and women possess as members of an enlightened society.   

The National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA has historically and consistently defended these principles as integral to the well being of US citizens, and indeed of all people.  This defense has been strongest during severe tests of our national character.  This resolution, while recognizing the myriad civil and religious liberties issues at stake today – having to do among other things with privacy, gender, and genetics, as well as with free exercise, establishment, and education – is addressed primarily to the issues most related to this moment of national crisis, a crisis characterized by post-9/11 anxiety and responses such as the USA PATRIOT Act. 

Theological Foundation.   The theological foundation for this position is in the scriptures and tradition of the Christian faith.  If it is true that all human beings reflect the divine imprint – “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness…So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:26-27, NRSV) – then it is also true that essential human dignity is the divine gift of God.  Such dignity in turn reflects humanity’s infinite worth and its endowment with rights intended to guard against the diminishment of that worth.  It is no surprise that we consider religious liberty as basic to all other liberties. 

Ultimately, based on the relationship with God for which humankind was created, a relationship of love and freedom, the dignity of women and men is found in our freedom – here the Christian tradition speaks of free will, and of the maxim that “God became a [human being] so that [human beings] could become like God” – and thus in our response to God and in our responsibility toward one another under God.  Our response to God, and our responsibility toward one another, therefore, is to act in accordance with obedience to God, and to serve one another to the well being of all.   

Policies.  Particularly in times of national crisis, the National Council of Churches USA has taken strong positions in defense of these principles based on these theological affirmations.  This is so even while recognizing that security is preeminently in God, and not in the secular constructs that govern our social contract with one another.  A review of these positions, taken in the past yet highly relevant in specific content to this day, is in order:

In 1954, at a time of fear and suspicion with regard to communism, a policy statement, entitled “Investigative Procedures in the Congress of the United States,” was critical of the stigmatization of people and organizations on the basis of unsupported accusations; called into question forced testimony, under false pretexts, concerning economic and political beliefs; sought the prevention of questionable legal procedures intended to subvert legal processes; and expressed concern over the exploitation of public interest and fear.  

In 1955, during a time of social unrest, a policy statement, entitled “Religious and Civil Liberties in the United States of America,” affirmed the separation of church and state while denying the indifference of church and state to one another; defended the rights and liberties of cultural, racial and religious minorities (though subjecting the exercise of these rights to morality, public order and security); and affirmed the interdependence and indivisibility of religious and civil liberties. 

In 1957, at a time of debate over racial desegregation, a policy statement, entitled “Freedom of Association,” called for the protection of voluntary associations, especially in connection with desegregation; defended the right of peaceable association and freedom of speech; defended the right to privacy and anonymity of membership in such associations (subject to legal guarantees); and voiced its opposition to the suppression of voluntary association. 

In 1965, at a time of struggle over the right to vote, a policy statement, entitled “Equal Representation is a Right of Citizenship,” affirmed the equal right to vote, and the equal value of all votes; called for protection of the standard of equal representation; stated that rights cannot be taken from people by those in power to protect their power; and confirmed that equal representation is a fundamental right and an adjunct to full political personhood. 

In 1966, during a time of war, a policy statement, entitled “Rights and Responsibilities of Debate, Diversity and Dissent,” stated that freedoms and liberties were to be protected in times of crisis, not curtailed to present a united front; condemned the invalidation of the witness of whole groups based on the questionable motives of a few; defended conscientious dissent in times of military action; and questioned the appeal to patriotism to stifle criticism. 

In 1967, at a time of social upheaval, a policy statement, entitled “Church-State Issues for Social and Health Services in the U.S.A.,” affirmed equal access to social welfare resources; distinguished between service and evangelism as a guide for the policies of church-related social agencies; affirmed the role of communities of faith in helping to implement social programs and shape social policy; and outlined principles governing church and state relations in social service. 

In 1968, at a time of war and continued social unrest, a policy statement, entitled “Religious Obedience and Civil Disobedience,” confirmed the responsibility of government to secure justice, peace, and freedom, and to maintain order for these purposes; affirmed that Christians can disobey government if its authority is misused, and peace, justice, and freedom are denied; stated that Christians are compelled to act out of faith, yet peaceably in the case of civil disobedience; and argued that civil disobedience is a violation of a law deemed unjust in obedience to one’s conscience or a higher law. 

These policy statements, when taken as a whole, are a coherent and compelling defense of civil and religious liberties.  Based as they are on Christian faith, they offer a template against which Christians may evaluate other challenges to civil and religious liberties that confront Americans and American Churches. 

Current Issues.   Today we are in another moment of national crisis and uncertainty.  The terrorist attacks of 9/11; the all-consuming “war on terror”; the war in Iraq:  all of these have led to anxiety, the exploitation of fear, and the erosion in national self-confidence.  It has also led this country to the point of willingly sacrificing the very ideals that have made it great.  In no area of social interaction is the threat as large as in the area of civil and religious liberties. 

Many of these issues are reminiscent of years past, as is evident in the above policy descriptions; others are new and equally shocking.  These threats include:  indefinite detention and the withholding of due process; extraordinary rendition and torture; arbitrary designation of enemy combatants; the suspicion of immigrants and those applying for immigrant status; the invasion of privacy in terms of medical records, library borrowing, and other personal documents; and a creeping reliance on selective religious fundamentalism as the lens for shaping public policy, especially at the expense of other religious communities. 

In response to pertinent security concerns, the US Government has availed itself of any number of tools.  Most prominent among these is the USA PATRIOT Act, which has attracted much attention due to its expansion of government power to intrude in the private lives of individuals.  Passed in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, and largely reaffirmed this year as a continued weapon in the “war on terror,” it holds the potential for vastly eroding civil liberties.  The provisions of the act are in seeming conflict with the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures.  These provisions include:  delayed-notice search warrants to secretly investigate potential criminals; national security letters to secretly gather private and confidential information; relaxed restrictions on wiretapping; and extensive use of deportation and denial of immigrant applications based on unknowing associations.  

At the same time, the law has authorized the seizure of assets of organizations, including religious and charitable organizations, deemed to have ties with groups labeled by the government as terrorist.  As with other provisions which are executed in secret, there is no opportunity to challenge government declarations in advance of adverse enforcement action.  The use of these laws to stigmatize American Muslims has created hardship and mistrust in their community, putting them in the position of having to prove innocence without even the benefit of an appropriate public forum.   

In addition, the use of ethnic profiling as a proxy for religious profiling is especially troubling.  The use of such profiling by law enforcement is a debatable and highly suspect practice.  But it does not stop with official acts, as the official practice of religious profiling encourages a wider discrimination in the society at large whereby many peaceable, law-abiding citizens are severely disadvantaged solely because of their religious faith. 

Liberty taken away in the name of patriotism and security is a cause for concern for all who trust in US Constitutional protections.  While churches support law enforcement to protect Americans, they are not blind to the risks we all share when our civil and religious liberties are eroded.  As persons of faith, we should also be aware that there is no exemption from these rules for faith-based organizations.  We must therefore continue to stand strong against this tendency and to speak out in defense of those liberties that are fundamental to our national being.



the terrorist attacks of 9/11 have caused great fear in US society; 

the resulting government-declared “war on terror” has exacerbated this fear; 

the war in Iraq has increasingly eroded national confidence in the implementation of this “war on terror,” a development compounded by the exposure by Hurricane Katrina of the fault-lines in Homeland Security capabilities;  

the “war on terror” has allowed the US to neglect, limit, and even betray its treasure of civil and religious liberties, as evidenced by recent legislative and policy assaults on such liberties, especially the USA PATRIOT Act, in the name of security;  

as Christians we are concerned that the freedom we have as human beings is not well served by current policies;  

as women and men of faith we believe our increasingly diverse society is best served by expanding, rather than narrowing, the opportunities of people of all faiths to access the public square, and thereby to expand mutual interaction and respect; and,  

as an organization composed of Christian communions that have together over the years defended civil and religious liberties, based on Christian faith; 

Therefore, be it resolved that the National Council of Churches USA: 

urges its member communions to be ever-vigilant in protecting and defending civil and religious liberties – including those not specifically tied to this current moment of national crisis but nonetheless important to our national life – through any and all moral and legal means available; 

commits itself to the monitoring of current and potential civil and religious liberties abuses in and by the US, and to taking action that would address these abuses; and, 

pledges to educate members of its constituent communions, with this resolution and background materials on previous policy statements, on the importance of upholding civil and religious liberties, even and most critically in times of national distress.

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Resolution on Just Rebuilding of the Gulf Coast
Adopted by the General Assembly November 2005

Whereas the Governing Board of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA has committed itself to a Special Commission for the Just Rebuilding of the Gulf Coast, and  

Whereas Church World Service has played and continues to play a pivotal role in addressing human need—short term and long term in the region, and  

Whereas the complexity of race and class as instrumental issues in the Gulf Coast demand our best, most coherent and most effective response, 

Therefore, be it resolved that the General Assembly endorses and affirms both the establishment of the Special Commission and the relief efforts of Church World Service carried out in the name of member communions; and urges the Special Commission to strive for the greatest degree of coherence and comprehensive effort in our rebuilding of the Gulf Coast communities and in addressing the human inequities which exacerbated a natural disaster into a wholesale calamity.

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Resolution to Reaffirm Commitment to Voting Rights Act
Adopted by the General Assembly November 9, 2005

The General Assembly of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA adopted a Human Rights Policy Statement on December 6, 1961, setting forth general principles related to the inherent worth, rights and responsibilities of all persons.  In the section entitled “Political and Civic Rights” the statement recognizes:  

“The right to full participation of the person in political and civic life, including the opportunity: to vote by secret ballot…” 

This policy statement predated the enactment of voting rights legislation adopted in 1965. The General Board of the National Council of Churches adopted a new human rights policy statement on November 17, 1995. The statement acknowledges extensive changes in our society since the adoption of a human rights policy in 1963.   

Theological Foundation 

The 1995 statement shared theological and biblical understandings based on our Christian tradition. “Human rights are not simply granted by human authorities. Human rights are inherent for humankind, fashioned in the image of God”. Human rights involve the relationships of individual, groups and social structures. The Christian faith affirms the belief in these rights and in the corresponding responsibility of men and women to exercise their rights. 


The 1995 policy statement reads in part:

“Racial and ethnic communities continue to be victimized by racism, xenophobia and ethnocentrism. These conditions are exacerbated by voluntary and forced migration, human enslavement, political realignments and the shifting of geographical boundaries. The Church must stand with these communities as they assert their right to full acceptance and citizenship, guarantees of and protection of human rights on an equal basis with other persons in the society, and recognition of their unique worth.”

We believe that the right to vote is a basic human right, therefore as the Voting Rights Act comes up for reauthorization in 2007, the National Council of Churches must be on record in strong support of this legislation. The right to vote is perhaps the single most important right in a democratic society. Recent history verifies that voting discrimination against minority populations continues and therefore that federal oversight of state and local voting functions remains an imperative in jurisdictions with patterns of voting discrimination. 


The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was enacted 40 years ago. Congress hails the VRA as the nation’s most effective civil rights legislation. The VRA was amended in 1970, 1975, and 1982. The VRA was adopted at a time when African Americans were substantially disfranchised in many Southern states. It has now also removed barriers to voting for Asians, Latino Americans and Native Americans and for persons with disabilities.

The Act employed measures to restore the right to vote that intruded in matters previously reserved to the individual states. Section 4 ended the use of literacy requirements for voting in six Southern states (Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Virginia) and in many counties of North Carolina, where voter registration or turnout in the 1964 presidential election was less than 50 percent of the voting-age population.

Under the terms of Section 5 of the Act, no voting changes were legally enforceable in these jurisdictions until approved either by a three-judge court in the District of Columbia or by the Attorney General of the United States. Other sections authorized the Attorney General to appoint federal voting examiners who could be sent into covered jurisdictions to ensure that legally qualified persons were free to register for federal, state, and local elections, or to assign federal observers to oversee the conduct of elections.

Although the voting protections of the Fifteenth Amendment and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act are permanent, the special provisions of Section 5 remains in effect only through 2007. Section 5 makes it mandatory for election practices that change boundaries or impose new procedures in certain states to be subjected to administrative review by the United States Attorney General, or ruled on by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia before implementation.  The NCC believes it will be a travesty of justice to allow these special provisions to expire.

Prior to the Civil War, African Americans were almost totally disenfranchised throughout the states.  The Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution, adopted in 1870, gave all men, regardless of race, color, or previous condition of servitude the right to vote. The Nineteenth Amendment ratified in 1920, provided women the right to vote.

Even after the enactment of the 15th amendment, many southern states continued to use various methods to prevent people of color from voting, including literacy tests, poll taxes, the disenfranchisement of former inmates, intimidation, threats, and even violence. Until 1965, federal laws did not challenge the authority of states and localities to establish and administer their own voting requirements.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was designed to address these issues. It prohibits discrimination based on race or language minority status. The VRA enables millions of minorities to register and vote despite some states’ efforts to limit the exercise of their right. These key “special provisions” of the VRA have a remedial purpose and are set to expire on August 6, 2007.

Section 2 of the Act, which bars the use of voting practices or procedures that discriminate against members of such protected classes, has been used successfully to attack restrictive voter registration requirements and the location of polling places at sites inaccessible to minority voters.
Section 5 of the Act requires federal “pre-clearance” before covered jurisdictions (i.e., specified jurisdictions with a history of practices that restrict minority voting rights) may make changes in existing voting practices or procedures. The Act also provides the Department of Justice with the authority to appoint federal observers and examiners to monitor elections to ensure that they are conducted fairly. Initial enforcement efforts targeted, among other things, literacy tests, poll taxes, and discriminatory registration practices.
In 1975, the Voting Rights Act was amended to address the voting rights of language minorities. ." Sections 4 and 203 of the Act apply in jurisdictions with significant numbers of voters with limited or no English proficiency and require such jurisdictions to provide voting materials and assistance in relevant languages in addition to English. These provisions now apply to non- southern states as well because of the increasing diversity in our society.

The VRA was amended in 1982. The amendments make clear that it is unnecessary to prove that certain registration and voting practices have been established with discriminatory intent. Instead, section 2 is violated if a court concludes that a voting practice has the effect of limiting the electoral influence of minorities, even if not motivated by bias. A second 1982 amendment allows for people who are blind, disabled, or illiterate to be assisted in voting by almost anyone of their choice.  

Many Americans are not aware of the history of the VRA and therefore may assume there is no longer a need to have the protection afforded by the special provisions of the Act. Despite the progress that has been made since the enactment of the VRA of 1965, voter inequities, disparities, and obstacles still remain for many voters and serve to demonstrate the ongoing need for the VRA and its special provisions. Gerrymandering, improper redistricting, disenfranchising former inmates, inaccessible voting booths and flawed voting procedures are issues that must continued to be addressed to ensure the protection of  the right to vote for all Americans. 

Therefore, be it resolved that the Governing Board of the NCC recommends to the General Assembly the following actions: 

·         Begin work on the VRA in 2005 to highlight its importance prior to election season.  

·         Call upon member communions and ecumenical partners to work both individually and collaboratively to insure an awareness of the need for the Voting Rights Act and its special provisions to be extended permanently.  

Maintain involvement in voter registration and get-out-the vote efforts.  

·         Allocate appropriate funding to assist the Justice and Advocacy Commission to gather and disseminate appropriate educational materials on the issue of the voting rights act, and empower the commission to work for the creation and adoption of legislation to make all the qualities of the Voting Rights Act permanent.   

·         Make reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act a council-wide priority for 2006-7. 

·         Change the dates of future General Assemblies to avoid conflict with Election Day. 

Policy Base:

Human Rights: The Fulfillment of Life in the Social Order, November 17, 1995

Equal Representation Is a Right of Citizenship adopted by the General Board, June 3, 1965

Human Rights adopted by the General Assembly, December 6, 1963  


The Right to Vote, February 23, 1961

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A Statement on the Disavowal of Torture  

Based upon our longstanding policies defending human rights and our affirmation of human dignity as revealed in scripture, the General Assembly of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA and Church World Service meeting in Baltimore, MD, November 8 – 11, 2005, commends the United States Senate for its recent passage of the “Anti-Torture Provisions” which came as amendments to the Defense Appropriations Act of 2006.  As that bill now comes before the House of Representatives for action (H. R. 2863), we are deeply disturbed that leaders within our nation’s government oppose legislation which publicly disavows our nation’s use of torture anytime, anywhere, under any circumstances.

Within the core of our religious tradition are Jesus’ call to love our enemies, his blessing of those who work for peace, and his instruction that we are to do unto others as we would have them do unto us (Mt. 7:12)--a teaching found in other faith traditions as well. Both United States and international law reflect this biblical mandate, a social ethic commonly known as the Golden Rule, by upholding as core principles the right of due process and the humane treatment of all prisoners, even in times of war. As delegates to the General Assembly of the National Council of Churches USA and Church World Service, we find any and all use of torture unacceptable and contrary to U.S. and international legal norms. We find it particularly abhorrent that our nation’s lawmakers would fail to approve the pending legislation disavowing the use of torture by any entity on behalf of the United States government.  

Torture, regardless of circumstance, humiliates and debases torturer and tortured alike. Torture turns its face against the biblical truth that all humans are created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26, 27). It denies the preciousness of human life and the dignity of every human being by reducing its victims to the status of despised objects, no matter how noble the cause for which it is employed.  

We believe that any reluctance of this nation to publicly disavow torture under any circumstance not only erodes the peace of the world but even the possibility of peace, since it destroys the trust required for diplomacy and other non-violent means to seek peace. Thus, we call upon members of the U. S. House of Representatives to follow the lead of the Senate by approving the legislation before it banning the use of torture by any entity of our government. Furthermore, we urge the President of the U. S. and all members of his administration to support this legislation by affirming America’s long-standing commitment to refrain from the use of torture.  

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Pastoral Message on Alexandria
Adopted by the General Assembly November 10, 2005

We the delegates to the General Assembly of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA and Church World Service, meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, November 8-10, 2005, have heard with great concern of the horrific and violent acts against the Coptic Orthodox and Protestant Christians in Alexandria, Egypt, on October 21-22, 2005. In solidarity with one of our member communions, the Coptic Orthodox Archdiocese of North America, we join our Egyptian sisters and brothers in Christ in fervent prayer for peace, justice and equal rights in their native and beloved country, Egypt. 

We also commend President Hosni Mubarak for his condemnation of the violence, his acknowledgement of deepening tensions between Egypt’s Muslims and Christians, and his exhortation to Muslim scholars to teach tolerance and shun extremism. In this same spirit, we commend Sheikh Mohammed Sayed El-Tantawi, Rector of Al Azhar University, for his encouragement of tolerance and peaceful coexistence among Muslims and Christians in Egypt in the wake of these recent events. 

We join with His Holiness Pope Shenouda III in his call for prayer and are comforted with him in the Book of Psalms, which states, “Wait on the Lord. Be of good courage and He shall strengthen your heart. Wait I say on the Lord” (Ps 27:14). Especially as we near the Advent season, we pray for Christians and all people in the region where Christ was born and sojourned, was crucified and resurrected. 

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Pastoral Message on Constantinople
Adopted by the General Assembly November 10, 2005

The National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA meeting in its General Assembly in Baltimore, Maryland, USA, expresses its sadness and dismay at the recent attacks and demonstrations by extremist elements in Turkey against the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the person of His All Holiness, Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch. 

We appreciate the timely response of the police in Istanbul in containing these elements of fanaticism and extremism. 

We pray for the continued well being of Patriarch Bartholomew and stand in solidarity with the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

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Contact NCC News: Philip E. Jenks, 212-870-2252; Leslie Tune, 202-544-2351


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