Republicans and Tea Party conservatives have long peddled themselves as America’s moral compass, citing scripture as they propose regressive laws and policies. But when a growing coalition of North Carolina progressives descended on Raleigh, N.C., Monday to decry the state’s Republican legislature, they drew support from another source of moral authority: progressive faith leaders.
Throngs of demonstrators gathered outside the North Carolina statehouse on Monday, as they have every Monday since April 29th, to engage in the latest chapter in an ongoing showdown between the North Carolinians and their state government in a movement known as Moral Mondays. A clergy-led grassroots movement, Moral Mondays has brought thousands of North Carolinians from all walks of life to the state capitol to pray, protest, and denounce a series of right-wing laws and proposals currently making their way through the state legislature.
The Moral Mondays movement, which is gaining support from five major Christian denominations, was originally spawned as a response to a regressive tax proposal that threatened to cut taxes for North Carolina’s wealthiest 5 percent while also raising taxes on the other 95 percent. But as the movement nears its third month, advocates are expanding their criticisms to include a growing list of extreme bills and laws endorsed by the Republican-dominated state leadership. These proposals, many of which have already passed through the state legislature, would:
— Block the expansion of Medicaid in North Carolina
— Institute discriminatory voter ID laws
— Cut preschool for 30,000 children and move $90 million originally slotted for public education to an expanded school voucher program
— Allow for hydraulic fracking in the state.
— Repeal the Racial Justice Act, a 2009 law that allows death row inmates to appeal their conviction if they prove that racial bias played a role in their sentence.
In addition, many of the advocates are expressing concern about proposed budget cuts to state unemployment benefits, which would deprive 70,000 North Carolinians of much-needed assistance if the law is allowed to take effect on June 30th. Over time, the U.S. Department of Labor estimates that if the government benefits are allowed to expire, as many as 170,000 people in North Carolina could lose extended federal benefits.
Eighty four protestors were arrested for civil disobedience in Monday’s action. This brings the total number of Moral Monday arrests to more than 480, many of whom are clergy who have never before participated in political activism.
“When laws are most harmful to the most vulnerable, clergy who are committed to a biblical vision of peace and justice ought to start paying attention,” said Rev. Franklin Golden, co-pastor of Durham Presbyterian Church in Durham, NC and a clergy member arrested at the protests.
With both the North Carolina House and Senate governed by conservative Republican majorities, participants in Moral Mondays don’t expect to win many immediate legislative victories through their activism. Instead, activists and their supporters are hoping their prayers and protests will pay dividends at the ballot box in 2014.
“We’re going to make sure that the contrast is so clear between meanness and immorality and extreme politics and the politics of love and justice and compassion, that when 2014 comes, the people will be able to make a decision.” Rev. Barber told The American Prospect in an interview.
Our guest blogger is Jack Jenkins, a Senior Writer and Researcher with the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative.