Religious Leaders Offer Sanctuary to WI Legislators Fighting for Public Employees' Rights

Posted | by Kim Bobo |

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Listen to an audio recording of the call here:

February 18, 2011

Kristin Ford, Faith in Public Life,,             202-459-8625      
Kim Bobo, Interfaith Worker Justice,,             773-391-8844      

Religious Leaders Offer Sanctuary to WI Legislators Fighting for Public Employees' Rights
Protestant, Catholic, Jewish clergy: Protecting workers' rights is a moral priority


As over tens of thousands of people protest Wisconsin Governor Walker's attempt to take away collective bargaining rights from nurses, teachers, and other public employees, faith leaders are speaking out and offering sanctuary to Wisconsin legislators who fled Madison in an effort to prevent a vote to strip workers of the right to negotiate for fair wages, benefits and working conditions.

Speaking on press teleconference call Friday afternoon, Catholic, Protestant and Jewish clergy from Illinois and Wisconsin stressed the faith community's commitment to workers' rights as a moral issue, offered their support to protecting Wisconsin public employees' collective bargaining rights, and extended invitations of sanctuary and hospitality to lawmakers.

"For these brave Senators who are seeking shelter from the storm, I say we welcome you and we offer you sanctuary and hospitality in the Christian tradition," said Rev. Jason Coulter, Pastor of Ravenswood United Church of Christ in Chicago. "My state of Illinois is facing a budget crisis much more severe than our neighbors to the north, yet we understand that punitive, family destroying measures are not the solution. We are coming together to solve problems without scapegoating public workers and their unions."

"I want to affirm that it is a moral issue to support workers, they have a right to negotiate issues which directly affect their lives. My wife, 2 sons, and 1 daughter-in-law and 5 grandchildren will all be affected. No one else has been asked to sacrifice in Wisconsin except public employees," said Rev. Curt Anderson, pastor of First Congregational Church in Madison, WI and a board member of the Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice of South Central Wisconsin. "I implore Governor Walker to talk to people who are affected and not impose such an unfair solution. If our church can further that discussion by being a sanctuary we are happy to do that."

Faith leaders in Wisconsin have taken leading roles in rallies at the state capitol.

"In the past four days, we've had clergy speaking at all of the rallies at the capitol," said Rabbi Renee Bauer of Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice of South Central Wisconsin, from Madison. Bauer also stated that clergy in Madison had helped citizens prepare for lobbying visits and opened their doors to weary protestors, and the Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice of South Central Wisconsin sent Governor Walker a letter from over 50 religious leaders voicing opposition to his plan. Read the letter here.

"Our church is 1 mile from the capital and for 100 years, has considered its calling to provide hospitality," said Rev. Amanda Stein, Pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church in Madison. "We offer this building as a safe and holy sanctuary for legislators of any persuasion, where true dialogue can happen. The state capitol right now is not a place where true public dialog is happening."

Clergy on the call also explained that the debate about workers' rights is rooted deeply in faith traditions.

"Like Christianity, Judaism has a long history of calling for two things: dignity for workers, and the right of workers to have a voice and for their voice to be heard," said Rabbi Bruce Elder, Congregation Hafaka in Glencoe, IL. "I have a great hope that Wisconsin will consider the ramifications across the border and across the country. We will support legislators who were brave enough to take a stand."

"The first right we have is the right to truth, so let's tell the truth," said Father G. Simon Harak, S.J., Director of the Center for Peacemaking at Marquette University in Milwaukee. "Our state is broke because we have pushed through funding for special interest groups rather than hard-working Wisconsinites. Catholic Social Teaching is consistent in that workers have the right to organize, right to bargain, right to insurance in old age, and health care."

The struggle in Wisconsin is only one of many attacks on workers' rights under way throughout the country.

"Religious leaders across the country are standing up to attacks on public workers under the guise of fiscal responsibility," said Kim Bobo, Executive Director of Interfaith Worker Justice in Chicago. "Similar laws are being considered in 30 states and religious leaders are stepping up to the plate."