Georgia faith leaders demand answers on voting rights from Manchin and Sinema

04/01/2021 —Atlanta, Georgia — Religious leaders hold bottles of water with labels that read “Voter Suppression” following a press conference outside of the World of Coca-Cola in downtown Atlanta, Thursday, April 1, 2021. Bishop Reginald T. Jackson has called on people to boycott Coca-Cola, Home Depot and Delta Air Lines because he feels they have not taken a strong stance on SB 202. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

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04/01/2021 —Atlanta, Georgia — Religious leaders hold bottles of water with labels that read “Voter Suppression” following a press conference outside of the World of Coca-Cola in downtown Atlanta, Thursday, April 1, 2021. Bishop Reginald T. Jackson has called on people to boycott Coca-Cola, Home Depot and Delta Air Lines because he feels they have not taken a strong stance on SB 202. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Eight religious leaders have signed a letter to Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona demanding they explain their opposition to changing the legislative filibuster that has impeded action on voting rights legislation.

The letter, obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, said the Republican party is not the same party it was in 2006 when it supported renewal of several important enforcement provisions in the Voting Right Act.

“Is the filibuster more important than the U.S. Constitution?,” states the letters to the two senators. “Is it more important than voting rights? And why is it acceptable to work around the filibuster to pass the budget through reconciliation and increase the debt ceiling, but not for voting rights? We, and millions more, genuinely don’t understand and ask you to explain.”

The Senate was expected to start debate on voting legislation today.

Both senators have said they will not support removing voting rights legislation from the filibuster, effectively meaning that there must be a majority of 60 votes to advance.

Of the eight religious leaders who signed the letter, seven were from Georgia, including: Bishop Reginald T. Jackson, presiding prelate of the Sixth Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church; the Rev. Jamal H. Bryant, senior pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Stonecrest; and the Rev. Cynthia Hale, senior pastor of Ray of Hope Christian Church in Decatur.

Many of those who signed were in the forefront of a boycott last year against giant retailer Home Depot over passage of the state’s new stringent election law that among, other things, shortens early voting before runoff elections, curbs the use of ballot drop boxes and gives the GOP-controlled Legislature new powers over local election offices.

“I don’t think the White House has handled this well and I don’t think that Congress has handled this well,” said Jackson in a phone interview. “Voting ought to be made easy and convenient for legal voters to vote.”

He warned democracy could be at risk.

“I’m no sure the country fully understands what’s at stake,” he added.

Voting rights was also at the top of the agenda for the Progressive National Baptist Convention’s 60th annual midwinter-board meeting, which is being held in Atlanta.

President David R. Peoples said it was no coincidence that the group was meeting in Atlanta, Ga. " ground zero for voter suppression and subversion, for such a time as this when our voting rights are under fierce attack.”

The Rev. Willie Francois, co-chairman of the social justice commission, said the 1.9 million member denomination has several initiatives underway to get people to the polls.

The Progressive Baptists plans to launch a voter education strategy and mobilize 1,500 churches to register 500,000 people to vote in swing states such as Georgia, Michigan and Texas. Among its member churches is Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church. In March, the Progressive National Baptists plan to to meet in Washington, D.C. for an advocacy day.

“No matter what happens this week, no matter what happens next week, we’re gong to Washington,” said Francois.

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