Witnessing Wednesdays: Citizens hold prayer vigils for HB 70

One of the most powerful ways our members spoke out this legislative session was in prayer. Pastor Anthony Everett from Nia Community of Faith in Lexington led three Witnessing Wednesday prayer vigils in the lobby of the Senate offices to lift up HB70 and the issue of restoring voting rights to former felons once they served their time. WWprayer3The vigils took place at 11:30 a.m. on March 12th, 19th, and 26th and included prayer, song, testimony, and information about the issue. More than 40 people gathered at the last vigil, including Senators Reggie Thomas, Alice Forgy-Kerr, and Gerald Neal, highlighting the bi-partisan support for this issue. The vigils brought together advocates from across the state, including members of KFTC, The Council of Churches, Fairness, Kentucky Student Environmental Coalition, faith leaders from various denominations and faith traditions, and more. People across the state and nation were invited to pray and could join the vigil on livestream.

“As a Christian Social Activist, I believe that prayer is a means by which God's grace is shared.  God wants to restore all of us to our full humanity, including returning citizens whom our criminal justice system describes as former felons,” Pastor Everett said. “Those who have done their time must be restored as full human beings in society and not live with the stigma of second class citizenship for the rest of their lives through voter disenfranchisement or other means.  Anyone who would withhold these rights of our citizenry goes against the foundational freedoms for which this country was established as well as the basic tenants of what it means to be a person of faith.”

Senator Alice Forgy-Kerr from Lexington encouraged the members of the vigil and praised their efforts. “We will keep on keeping on,” she said. “You have never been better citizens, and better Kentuckians, and better Americans than when you engage in the way you have today.”

Senator Reggie Thomas from Lexington shared his faith: “We believe in the power of prayer. We know that if you pray to God and put your faith in God that he will make all things right. I know God hears our prayers on this matter and he will answer our prayers.”WitnessingWed.KerrThomas

Senator Gerald Neal from Louisville who sponsored Senate Bill 15, a companion Bill to HB70, showed his gratitude to those gathered. “This is what it’s going to take. Thank you for all you are doing and have been doing over the years. Do not get disheartened. Just keep on pushing and keep on moving.”

During the vigils, participants gave personal testimony on the issue. Many were directly affected and others spoke on behalf of those who were directly affected.

Rev. Alonzo Malone from Church Without Doors in Louisville spoke to the group about his experience as an ex-felon. Rev. Malone said he is a pastor of a church, a business owner, and is very involved in his community, but he cannot cast his ballot in an election. “I can pay taxes here for my business and as an individual, but I cannot vote. I find that disturbing and appalling.”

Virginia Johnson from Northern Kentucky spoke about why she is passionate about passing HB70. Virginia said she first discovered this issue in 2006 when she became active in politics. She was campaigning door-to-door and repeatedly met people who hung their heads in shame as they explained to her that they were ex-felons and they had lost their voting rights. “It breaks your heart,” Virginia said. “It set a fire under me to get this remedied. It’s just what is right.”

WitnessingWedGroupPastor Everett also delivered a letter to the Kentucky Senate from faith leaders across the nation. Among those signatures were Rev. Dr. Susan Henry-Crowe, chief executive of the General Board of Church & Society for the Methodist church; Jim Winkler, president and general secretary of the National Council of Churches, USA; the Rev. Ron Stief executive director of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, and Sister Rose Marie Tresp, director of justice with Sisters of Mercy of the Americas. The letter asked senators to “End Lifetime Disenfranchisement” and state their belief “in the worth of every human being regardless of their past behaviors and celebrate opportunities for restoration and a second chance.”

At the end of the last vigil, Pastor Everett left the crowd with this charge: “Whatever it is you believe, we must have a moral belief to do the right thing. I challenge you all to talk to people, talk to Senators, and get on the phone. Our motto has to be to keep it moving!”

As the 2014 legislative session comes to a close, it seems that HB70 will not be negotiated or called to conference committee this year. However, it’s important to note that the campaign has built more momentum and garnered more support this year than ever before. It’s imperative that we all remember the challenge set forth by Pastor Everett and Witnessing Wednesdays and “keep it moving” into next session.

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