Thursday, June 25, 2015


Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness
100 Maryland Avenue 
Suite 410
Washington, DC 20002
Contact: Reverend Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II

Two-Year Anniversary of the Shelby v. Holder Decision
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) extends thanks to Senators Patrick Leahy, Dick Durbin, and Chris Coons and Representatives John Lewis, Terri Sewell, Linda Sanchez and Judy Chu for sponsoring the Voting Rights Advancement Act. Two years ago the Shelby v Holder decision created a major setback in the rights of citizens of the United States to vote. 
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has historically stood with Church, civil rights groups and other organizations in advocating for equal voting rights in the United States. Our General Assemblies have consistently voted to increase voter participation, to ensure equality and fairness, to provide for accountability and responsibility, to renew democracy more broadly, and to propose actions for individuals, congregations, and councils of the church. We have also advocated for addressing the disenfranchisement of people of color in the U.S. electoral process. We believe voting to be an act of discipleship. Therefore, we encourage our members to exercise their right to vote for the candidate of their choice. We also affirm the need for persons to study the issues and vote regularly.
We are witnessing too many breaches in our democratic process, particularly as it pertains to voting in the United States. We earnestly pray that Congress will come together, as it has done since 1965, to restore a commitment to fairness and justice in the electoral process. Today’s news of the Voting Rights Advancement Act gives hope for the days ahead. 

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness Director Applauds Supreme Court Decision on Affordable Healthcare

The Supreme Court of the United States decided today in a 6-3 vote to uphold the Affordable Care Act. Reverend Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, Director of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness, expressed praise for the decision of the court.

“The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness has advocated for affordable healthcare for all citizens of the United States for more than sixty years.  We are grateful that the Supreme Court upheld the legitimacy of state exchanges, which provide greater access to enrollment in states that are not participating in the federal effort to insure people. It is our hope that this decision will end the long and arduous debate over the Affordable Healthcare Act, and that our nation will now focus on other important issues related to poverty and inequality.”

Monday, June 15, 2015

Faith and Immigrant Communities Fast at ICE Headquarters, Expose Refusal to Implement New Deportation Policies

Beginning tomorrow, Tuesday, June 16 through Thursday, June 18, the Presbyterian Office of Public Witness is cosponsoring a 3-day fast and prayer vigil in front of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) Headquarters in Washington, D.C, to stand with immigrants at risk of unjustified deportation. It is centered on two Sanctuary cases: Arturo Hernandez Garcia at First Unitarian Society of Denver and Rosa Robles Loreto in Tucson. Rosa has been in Sanctuary for 10 months at Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson. Take action for Rosa here and Arturo here.



For Immediate Release June 11, 2015

Megan Cagle, Church World Service (602) 399-0723

Faith and Immigrant Communities Fast at ICE Headquarters, Expose Refusal to Implement New Deportation Policies

National days of fasts, prayer vigils push Obama administration to hold ICE accountable for failing to implement executive actions on prosecutorial discretion

WASHINGTON, D.C. – After months of continual inaction by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials to implement the Obama administration’s November 2014 memorandum on prosecutorial discretion, faith and immigrant community leaders will hold a multi-day fast and prayer vigil beginning on Tuesday, June 16, 2015. Held in front of ICE headquarters in Washington, D.C., people of faith will stand with immigrants across the country who are at risk of unjustified deportation.

WHEN: Tuesday, June 16, 2015. Press conference will start at 11:00AM in front of ICE headquarters. Participants will lead songs, prayers, and share stories until the breaking of the fast at 5:30PM on Thursday, June 18, 2015.

WHERE: Press conference and actions will be held at ICE headquarters: 500 12th St. SW, Washington, D.C.

WHAT: Despite President Obama’s executive actions last year that directed the Department of Homeland Security to exercise prosecutorial discretion in deportation cases, ICE officials have continually failed to implement and follow the orders. The planned fast and joint actions across the country aim to hold the agency accountable for their failure to implement discretion and relief policies aimed at protecting individuals who have family and community ties in the United States. The fast is centered specifically on the cases of Arturo Hernandez Garcia and Rosa Robles Loreto who are living in churches in Denver and Tucson, respectively, to find sanctuary and fight deportation and separation from their children, families and communities. Visit for more information.

SPEAKERS: Sanctuary resident Arturo Hernandez Garcia via telephone; Rev. Jeannie Shero, First Universalist Church of Denver; and Rev. Dr. Earl Trent, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Church World Service and Senior Pastor, Florida Avenue Baptist Church.

VISUALS: Signs in support of sanctuary residents, pictures of Arturo Hernandez Garcia and Rosa Robles Loreto, protestors and activists, clergy members, interfaith symbols and altar.

CO-SPONSORS: American Friends Service Committee, Church World Service, Disciples Refugee & Immigration Ministries, General Board of Church and Society, Franciscan Action Network, Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office, National Day Laborer Organizing Network, New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia, Presbyterian Office of Public Witness, Southside Presbyterian Church, Standing on the Side of Love, UURISE - Unitarian Universalist Refugee and Immigration Services and Education, United Methodist Church, and the Unitarian Universalist Association.


Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Resource: The Church's Stance on Private Prison Abolition

The Presbyterian Church U.S.A. and For Profit Prisons:
Key Points in the Resolution Calling for the Abolition of For Profit Prisons
Approved by the 215th General Assembly (2003)

1. The PC(USA) has called for the use of incarceration as a last resort.
A 1978 statement on The Church and Criminal Justice reflected on the belief that “restraint may be necessary to limit or prevent behavior that is dangerous to others” (Minutes, PCUS, 1978, Part I, p. 199). Yet it noted that the ultimate objective of the criminal justice system should be “one of reconciliation rather than one of retribution” (Minutes, PCUS, 1978, Part I, p. 202), including punitive measures taken against prisoners. It also held that “imprisonment should not be used as the principle means to achieve community protection and well being” (Minutes, PCUS, 1978, Part I, p. 202).

2. The PC(USA) has called upon the church to protect the health, safety and legal rights of offenders, which are routinely violated at private prisons.
The following are two examples of violent  “business as usual” at CCA:
• William P., a fifteen-year-old boy had to be hospitalized in a state psychiatric ward for an entire year after spending six months at the CCA Training School in Columbia, South Carolina. A lawsuit filed against the company described a pattern of abusive treatment, including hogtying William and locking him in a cell with larger, older males known for victimizing youth as a form of “punishment.” The jury awarded the family $3 million, citing a pattern of criminal misconduct by the company. (More information: [2-2-1-1 CCA PP Metroland 5-15-00]. PDF of verdict: prisons/suit-sc.pdf)
• Salah Dafali, an asylum-seeker, was detained in a CCA’s Elizabeth, New Jersey, detention center. Dafali was beaten by guards for participating in a nonviolent protest and sent to a local hospital where doctors found boot-print marks on his face. (More information: [] Bergen Record coverage []).

3. Existing PC(USA) policy calls for the rehabilitation of prisoners and their reintegration into society, a goal antithetical to those of for profit prisons who seek to keep their facilities full.
o   In agreement with the statements of the 1910 and 1915 General Assemblies, we believe that the ultimate goal of the criminal justice system should be “restorative justice”: “addressing the hurts and the needs of the victim, the offender, and the community in such a way that all—victim, offender, and community—might be healed” (Resolution on Restorative Justice, Minutes, 2002, Part I, p. 576). We realize that, given the limits of our knowledge and understanding at this time, some may need to be incarcerated for life because they are a danger to themselves and others. But we hope that in the future, advances in working with such prisoners through spiritual, medical, rehabilitative, psychological, and educational techniques may some day make it possible for every prisoner to be successfully rehabilitated and restored to their community and family.

4.     Conclusion:
o   In a humane society, in a democratic society, there are some things that can never be for sale, even and especially when they involve “one of the least of these followers of mine.”
These things include:
• take away another human being’s freedom;
• separate them from other human beings;
• prevent them from communicating in any way with others; and
• use of physical force against them, up to and including deadly force.
o   Even if for-profit private prisons could achieve significant cost savings to the taxpayer, which in fact they have not been able to do, they would still be morally unacceptable. Private prisons are not an economic but a deep religious and ethical issue, a cornerstone of our collective work to put justice back into the so-called “criminal justice system.” 
       Find a PDF of this document here

Action Alert: Tell the House to Vote NO on Fast Track!

On May 22nd, the Senate voted to approve Trade Promotion Authority, a trade bill commonly known as "Fast Track". In the coming weeks, the House will now consider this bill - but its passage if far from certain.
Advocates like you have made a big difference in taking a stand for just trade practices. As a result of your calls, emails and letters, many of "Fast Track's" potential side effects have been exposed. Concerns over currency manipulation and human rights violations were discussed on the Senate floor, and the debate left many representatives questioning if there truly were any benefits of a "Fast Track" bill.
"Fast Track" is an undemocratic legislative procedure that will serve to usher in major trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with limited debate an no amendments. The TPP has been negotiated almost entirely in secret with no transparency or accountability. And, what we have gathered from leaked documents  is troubling. If the TPP passes, it would rewrite the rules for health, labor, the environment and food standards. While corporations will stand to benefit, the average citizen will not.
Contact your representative in Congress now and tell them to vote NO on the upcoming "Fast Track" vote. Join the National Call-In Day to unite with other advocates and let our message be heard!
Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson II, Director of the Office of Public Witness, has said the following on the upcoming vote in congress:
"The Senate vote to pass "Fast Track" is a commitment to continue a broken trading system. The door is open for more corporate lobbying and secret negotiating that fosters prosperity for corporate interest over public interest. We have witnessed this in the negotiations of flawed trade agreements such as NAFTA and CAFTA. The Trans-Pacific Partnership, through "Fast Track", stands to threaten labor, health, and environmental regulations. As a community of justice-seekers, the Presbyterian Church (USA) will not remain silent while the greater good remains under duress. We urge our representatives in the House to vote down “Fast Track” at this critical point in time."
Call your representative today: tell them to vote NO on Fast Track!
To learn more about Fast Track and the TPP, join our office in partnership with the Interfaith Working Group on Trade and Investment for a webinar! Speakers will provide an update on upcoming actions in DC, and offer simple ways to be an advocate in your home town! Follow the Office of Public Witness on Facebook for upcoming registration information.

Webinar: A Faithful Response to Fast Track
June 10th 12pm (EST)/ 9am (PST)