U.S. bishops (finally) take a stand in favor of voting rights

Just over a week after the Supreme Court issued its decision on the Voting Rights Act, the U.S. Catholic bishops have weighed in with a statement that takes a strong stand for the right of all American citizens to vote. Although their reaction didn’t come nearly as swiftly as the response to the Supreme Court decision on the Defense of Marriage Act, the bishops’ response on voting rights is a welcome reminder of the church’s teaching on the importance of including all members of society in the voting process.

Signed by Bishops Stephen Blaire, chair of the bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, and Daniel Flores, chair of the Committee on Cultural Diversity, the statement calls for swift action from Congress to ensure that the right of all citizens to vote is protected in the wake of the court’s decision. The bishops write:

“The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has long played a leadership role in securing and protecting the rights of all citizens to vote, including the Voting Rights Act… Corresponding to this right is the moral obligation that each of us has to participate in public life.” As noted in the U.S. bishops’ document Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, participation in the political process is both a virtue and a moral obligation in the eyes of the church, and no American should be denied that right–regardless of who they plan to cast their ballot in favor of.

In our July issue, Kristen Hannum explores how current laws and voting procedures are keeping some Americans from being able to carry out their moral obligation to vote. Whether it be elderly nuns who are unable to get the proper state-issued IDs to vote in Pennsylvania, poor and homeless people who lack transportation to reach far away polling places, or former criminals who long ago paid their debt to society yet are still excluded from voting, there are plenty of Americans who may want to be part of the political process that are simply finding it impossible. Although efforts should be made to ensure that voting is done fairly and accurately, any policies that exclude entire groups of people from the political process, no matter what their party affiliation, should be avoided at all costs.

I was surprised to find that some readers objected to Hannum’s article on the grounds that voting rights is “not a Catholic issue” or that there’s “nothing Catholic” about working to ensure all Americans have equal access to the political process. Others argued that saying all people should be able to vote is somehow a partisan stance, as if to suggest that all the people who want to vote in an election but are unable all belong to the same party. Perhaps many readers of the article were just unfamiliar with the church’s teaching on this issue.

I was therefore happy to see the bishops’ conference affirm that voting rights is a bipartisan issue and that “participation in political life in light of fundamental moral principles is an essential duty for every Catholic and all people of good will.” The bishops, along with pastors around the country, need to continue to educate the Catholic faithful about the church’s teaching and the fact that supporting voting rights is, as Glenmary Father Les Schmidt puts it, “not a political football… This is a human justice issue.”

I for one hope that all this talk about voting leads to more people at the polls this November–even if they all vote for different candidates than I might vote for.

Image: Flickr photo cc by kristen_a (Meringue Bake Shop)

About the author

Scott Alessi

Scott Alessi is a former managing editor of U.S. Catholic.