Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Urging Congress To Do Their Job: Pass Gun Violence Prevention Legislation

Urging Congress To Do Their Job
Pass Gun Violence Prevention Legislation

July 4th Recess Letter Drop

Advocacy Toolkit 

Table of Contents
1) Introduction and Background Information
2) Instructions for Letter Drop
3) Sample letter to your Representative to Pass Gun Violence Prevention Legislation
4) Social Media
5) Primary Objectives of Letter Drop

Introduction and Background Information

After the historic and unprecedented Democratic sit-in on the House floor Wednesday June 22 to urge the House to take up what it has long ignored – preventing gun violence – it is now up to us, people of faith, to take this message to our Representatives.

This is a perfect time for you to let your Representative know that ignoring the epidemic of gun violence will not protect public safety. Every day 91 people in the United States are killed by a gun. Yet, the House and Senate continue to act as if this is not happening because of the stifling grip of the gun lobby.

What is more, according to Everytown for Gun Safety gun violence is becoming increasingly used as part of hate crimes directed towards members of the LGBTQ community as we saw in Orlando. Consider these facts:
·       Data from the National Crime Victimization Survey indicates that between 2010 and 2014, there were an estimated 43,000 hate crimes committed in the United States that involved guns.
·       More than half (52 percent) of hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation are violent.
·       Between 2004 and 2012, the percentage of hate crimes involving violence increased from 78 percent to 90 percent.
·       In studies going back decades, assaults involving guns have proven to be five times more likely to end in the death of the victim than those involving knives, and the difference is even greater with high-caliber guns. (Taken from

Simple measures can greatly reduce many of the mass shootings to which we have become accustomed. No one law will stop every incident of gun deaths, but we can go a long way toward having a safer community, a safer nation, a safer world. Simply put, universal background checks saves lives. In states that require a background check for all handgun sales, there are:
·       46 percent fewer women shot to death by intimate partners,
·       48 percent fewer law enforcement shot to death with handguns,
·       48 percent fewer people killed by firearms suicide,
·       48 percent less gun trafficking, and
·       52 percent fewer mass shootings.
Eighteen states and Washington, DC go beyond federal law and require background checks on all handgun sales. Six states have passed background check laws since the 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, including Colorado, Washington, and Oregon. Nevada and Maine will vote on background checks in 2016. (Taken from

Therefore, we must take this unique time to urge members of Congress that gun violence can be drastically reduced and they must take leadership in making this happen. 

Instructions for Letter Drop

Use this toolkit with your congregation, faith group, or coalition and invite them to join with you in making a powerful impact.

Materials Needed: A sign on letter adapted from the below template (you can edit it), sign on sheet, clipboards, pens, small table (optional)
1.     See the sample letter on the next page (which can be edited). With others from your congregation or organization, read through and modify the letter to best describe what you want to share with your Representative for them to do on addressing gun violence. List yourself or another point person’s contact information at the top of the letter or on a cover sheet so you can receive the reply from the member of Congress.
2.     Find your member of Congress and the address of their local office closest to you. Visit to find your Representative.
3.     Work with others in your congregation or community group to get signatures on the letter in a high-traffic area after a worship service or event. You can send it around adult education classes, Bible/book studies, youth groups, and college classes in addition to your entire congregation. Ask the members you know are willing to sign first – people are more likely to sign something when they already see other names. We are encouraging groups to not drop it off until you are able to 10-15 signatures. The more you are able to gather, the more powerful it will be!
4.     Make sure an announcement is made about the letter in the congregation bulletin, from the pulpit, and through social media. The most effective way to get folks to sign is through personal invitation. You and others should personally invite folks to sign the letter! Before you turn in the signatures, make sure to scan them or take a photo with your phone in order to capture the contact information for your future organizing efforts.
5.     Call your Representative’s local office to either schedule a meeting with the Representative or a staff person, or even to simply find out the hours when they are open, so you can drop off the letters. When you get to the office here is a possible script: "Hi, my name is [NAME] and I am a member of [Congregation/Group] in [City]. Many of our members signed this letter to urge Representative [NAME] to pass gun violence prevention legislation on July 5th when the current recess is over. Will you please make sure the Representative and appropriate staff see this letter?"
6.     When you and a friend (or friends) take your letter by your Representatives’ office take a selfie and tweet it out using the hashtag #LetterDrop. (You can also use hashtags like #StopGunViolence or #NoBillNoBreak as well.) That way we can see all who participate and those of us in DC can collect the pics and use them in advocacy to get the House and Senate moving. So, please tweet or send us your pictures!
7.     Share this toolkit with key leaders from 3-4 other congregations in your area and urge them to do this as well. This will make an impact with a number of faith communities engaged. Make sure they also post pictures on social media! Email them this message and then call them for the best effect. Nothing beats a phone call to get folks moving! 

Sample Letter Urging Congress to Pass Gun Violence Prevention Legislation

Dear Representative                       ,

As members of                    (name of faith community)           we are deeply concerned about the lack of progress by the Congress in addressing the epidemic of gun violence. As the days, months, and years go by without any action taken, more mass shootings occur and the needless loss of life continues. We are writing to demand that action be taken to quell the terrible epidemic of gun violence our society is suffering.

Virginia Tech, Tucson, Oak Creek, Aurora, Santa Clara, Fort Hood, Newtown, San Bernadino, and now Orlando. The number of cities with mass shootings spreads across the states in our nation and fills our hearts with tremendous sorrow for the tragic and unnecessary loss of life. We are also angry that these tragedies continue without any congressional leadership being taken. No more time can be wasted. Gun violence is taking an unacceptable toll on our society, in mass killings and in the constant day-to-day of senseless deaths. It is long past time for action.

Not only are we concerned about gun violence, but it must also be mentioned that we are concerned about the rhetoric in this debate that scapegoats our Muslim sisters and brothers. Violence committed by people of any religious, ethnic, or racial profile for any intention is devastating – focus on the secretive, error-filled terrorist watch list as a substitute for meaningful gun safety legislation is a distraction.  The vast majority of mass shootings in the U.S. have been committed by white males whose intentions to do violence would not have qualified them for inclusion on this list.

We need you to take action to ensure that:
  • Every person who buys a gun no matter where that takes place should pass a background check. No longer should we allow for a gun show loophole.
  • High-capacity weapons and ammunition magazines should not be available to civilians. There is no legitimate self-defense or sporting purpose for these military-style, high-capacity weapons and magazines whose only purpose is to kill large numbers of people in a short amount of time. We need an effective assault weapons ban now.

Public support for these measures is overwhelming. The time for merely offering thoughts and prayers without necessary action is over. Compromises that scapegoat a narrowly defined group of people for scrutiny is an unacceptable distraction for a problem shared by our whole society.  We need you to take action. We look forward to working with you to enact these common-sense measures to reduce gun violence. Our prayers are with you, our support is behind you. It is time for you to lead.


Social Media

Social media is a great way to spread the word about these issues and to get your friends, family, and other community members involved. Using popular social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, we encourage you to post a picture of your letters and/or your meetings with your Representative using #LetterDrop. If you are not able to meet with your Representative take a picture holding up the signed letter with #LetterDrop, and you might also use the hashtags, #NoBillNoBreak or #StopGunViolence. And, as always, encourage your friends and family to share on social media and join the movement!

 July 4 Recess
Letter Drop Primary Objectives

We want everyone everywhere, regardless of what district you are in to take part in the Letter Drop during the July 4 recess. But these are the primary focus – if we can get numerous houses of worship participating in the letter drop in these districts then we can make a tremendous impact. So, if you are in one of these districts please make sure your congregation participates and you actively recruit other congregations to participate as well. If you are not in this district please participate as well! But if you know a faith leader in one of these districts please pass on this toolkit and have them participate as well.

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI)
Janesville Office 
20 South Main Street, Suite 10
Janesville, WI 53545
(608) 752-4050
Kenosha Office
5031 7th Avenue
Kenosha, WI 53140
(262) 654-1901
Racine Office
216 6th Street
Racine, WI 53403
(262) 637-0510

Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA)
Bakersfield Office
4100 Empire Drive
Suite 150
Bakersfield, CA 93309
(661) 327-361

Majority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA)
Hammond Office
1514 Martens Drive, Suite 10
Hammond, LA 70401
(985) 340-2185
Houma Office
8026 Main Street, Suite 700
Houma, LA 70360
(985) 879-2300
Mandeville Office
21454 Koop Drive Suite 2C
Mandeville, LA 70471
(985) 893-9064
Metairie Office
110 Veterans Boulevard Suite 500
Metairie, LA 70005
(504) 837-1259

Conference Chairman Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA)
555 South Main Street
Colville, WA 99114
10 North Post Street, Suite 625
Spokane, WA 99201
Walla Walla
26 E. Main Street, Suite 2
Walla Walla, WA 99362

Policy Committee Chairman Rep. Luke Messer (R-IN)
Muncie Office
107 W. Charles St.
Muncie, IN 47305
Richmond Office
Richmond Municipal Building
50 N. 5th Street
Richmond, IN 47374
Shelbyville Office
2 Public Square
Shelbyville, IN 46176

Thursday, June 16, 2016

We Shall Not Be Moved: Advocacy in the New Age of Voter Suppression

Find a Link to the Full Resource HERE 

Using this Resource

In this election year, it is more critical than ever to understand the mechanics of our democracy,  to reclaim the values and the promise of our electoral process. The right to vote is being restricted in many places, which raises questions for U.S. Reformed Christians about the meaning of our democracy. At the direction of the General Assembly, we at the Office of Public Witness have compiled resources to aid individual church members and congregations to look at these questions. We hope this discussion guide will prove a helpful template in your process of reflection and action.
This resource can be used individually, with a church study group or class, or as a source of sermon starters and ideas. We intend this guide to explore the links between our call to public witness as Presbyterians and our responsibility as Americans to demand free and fair elections. Unlike voting guides that simply list things to support or oppose, we summarize history and practice to show systemic patterns that need change.
We draw on U.S. history, Presbyterian Social Witness Policy, Scripture, and other resources to focus on the gradual and uneven recognition of members of minority groups as full voting members of society. While some of these matters can be challenging or frustrating, we have sought new ways to encourage real dialogue in our congregations and communities about the lasting impacts of segregation, and the ongoing struggles for equity for women, people of color, working people and those unable to work. In a polarized environment, we still affirm  the promise of a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people”—for all the people!

The Theme: Voter Suppression in the United States

In the 2008 PC (U.S.A.) Social Witness Policy Lift Every Voice, the Presbyterian Church called on this country to enforce the Voting Rights Act and to protect people and communities of color, women, the young, people with disabilities and the elderly from targeted purges of voting lists and other forms of disenfranchisement[1]. This policy equipped us with much needed prophetic language and practical ideas, yet in 2013, our country entered a new era of voter suppression marked by different tactics than in years past but yielding the same dangerous outcomes. The Supreme Court decision of Shelby vs. Holder in 2013 reinterpreted the Voting Rights Act, limiting the ability of the federal government to review new voting laws put in place by the states that jeopardize minority voters. Since that decision suspending “pre-clearance” review by the Justice Department, states have passed voting laws that have the practical effect of discriminating against minority communities.[2] In an already partisan political climate, voting rights themselves should not be a partisan issue. Rather, they are the very foundation of democracy, and if free and fair elections are under threat, then so too is our national identity. Recognizing this, the 2014 General Assembly called for the 2008 policy to be updated and for the Office of Public Witness to provide a resource for study and action.
Respect for the conscience of the individual anchors Presbyterian reverence for the right to vote for everyone. Public service is seen by us as a high calling, and government itself a servant and agent of the people, accountable to all citizens. Politics as public decision-making has an ethical purpose and benefits from laws that prevent corruption by special interests against the common good. Weakening the rights of citizenship for some and unfairly enhancing the power of others distort the practices and legitimacy of democracy. As a Reformed Christian church, understanding God’s covenant to have been opened by Jesus Christ even to “the least of these,” the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) seeks to live out and witness to its values of love and justice in the public sphere.[3]
The systemic approach of denying minorities the right to vote has long been against our expressed ideals as Presbyterians. Beginning its post-war civil rights commitment in 1947, the Presbyterian Church, U.S. (PCUS) Assembly opposed all organizations and individuals who aim to hinder any minorities on the basis of creed, class or color. In 1956, the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (the more national, “Northern” church) called upon Christians to work to eliminate the poll tax “and other restrictions which prevent many citizens from exercising their legal rights at the polls” (Minutes, UPCUSA, 1956, Part I, p.235; see also Minutes, PCUS, 1957, Part I, p.194). In 1965, the PCUS affirmed the historic Voting Rights Act saying, “The basic purpose of the civil rights movement should be to obtain for the Negro—and of course, for all minority groups—justice in affairs of daily life and the right to respect as human being under the redemptive concern of God. Jesus, by His words and life, calls us, as his followers, to support him in the struggle…” (Minutes, PCUS, 1965, Part I, p.159). These and other statements were not easy to make and are worth remembering as that struggle continues in new forms.
Because the issue of voting rights is so deeply tied to the history of racism in the US, this course of study is intrinsically connected to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s vision of becoming an antiracist community. This provides us with the theological, cultural and political framework for resisting oppression and working to overcome racism within our own life as well as in the broader society. It means combining social analysis, institutional reconstruction, and individual healing with discernment, prayer, and worship-based action. This resource does not address all of the dynamics that restrict electoral reform, including partisan redistricting (gerrymandering) and distortions caused by the electoral college and inaction by the Federal Election Commission. But it does look at shorter term remedies and potential legislation that could restore voter protections intended in the original Voting Rights Act of 1965.  We encourage readers to formulate your own ways of engaging this topic based on the realities of your congregations and communities, and to reach out to the Office of Public Witness if we can be of further assistance.

Find a Link to the Full Resource HERE 

[1] “Lift Every Voice: Democracy, Voting Rights, and Electoral Reform”
[3] Here and elsewhere, this resource draws on language from the report to the 2016 General Assembly, “Election Protection and Integrity in Campaign Finance.”

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Presbyterian Church(USA) Signs on to Letter Opposing the Ayotte Amendments

June 8, 2016

Mitch McConnell                                                               Harry Reid 
Majority Leader                                                                 Minority Leader 
United States Senate                                                          United States Senate 
317 Russell Building                                                         522 Hart Building 
Washington, D.C. 20510                                                   Washington, D.C. 20002

Cc: Sens. Ayotte, Reed, Durbin, Cornyn, Leahy, Grassley

Dear Leaders McConnell and Reid,

On behalf of a coalition of groups working toward criminal justice reform, representing a nationwide, bipartisan-supported movement to achieve effective and just policy, we write to urge you to oppose S. AMDT. 4082 and S. AMDT. 4083 to S. 2943, the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2017 (“NDAA”). These amendments that are sponsored by Sen. Kelly Ayotte (RNH), and would widen the net of persons who could receive a mandatory minimum sentence for possessing or distributing the substance fentanyl. The Ayotte Amendments seek to increase the mandatory minimum sentencing requirement for the substance fentanyl, by decreasing the threshold amount for which mandatory sentences are triggered. Our country has begun to change course on its criminal justice policy, recognizing that mandatory minimum sentencing requirements have done little to protect the health of American citizens or promote the safety of our communities. Instead, mandatory minimum sentences have resulted in persons convicted of nonviolent drug offenses receiving disproportionate prison sentences, including life sentences. We believe the Ayotte Amendments represent a step backward toward ineffective policy that fails to direct resources wisely, and their passage must be prevented.

Fentanyl is a synthetic, rapid-acting opiate analgesic, commonly added to heroin to increase its potency. Because fentanyl is hundreds of times more powerful than heroin,(1) individuals high on the international supply chain of heroin trafficking are incentivized to strengthen a diluted product. (2) This process, whereby fentanyl is added to heroin, most often occurs before the product reaches the United States. (3)  When this occurs, street-level sellers (and consequently buyers) are often unaware of the makeup of their product and its potency.(4)

The Ayotte Amendments, in their attempt to extend punishments to low-level users and sellers, would subject individuals who suffer from opioid use disorders to lengthy sentences originally intended for large-scale traffickers. Under these amendments, a mere 0.5-20 grams of a mixture or substance containing fentanyl or an analogue of fentanyl would trigger mandatory minimum sentences of 5, 10, 20 years or even life without parole. These small amounts could be intended for personal use and possession rather than trafficking – increasing fentanyl penalties would result in the perpetuation of a public health crisis and the reversal of the work that has been done thus far in shifting our nation’s response to drug use toward public health instead of harsh incarceration.

We recognize the growing challenges around heroin in many communities, with an increasing number of overdose deaths attributed to the presence of fentanyl.5 The government must indeed respond to this crisis; however, in order to truly save lives and promote public safety, this response must be rooted in evidence-based practices. Mandatory minimum sentences have existed for heroin and fentanyl since 1986,6 yet these sentencing policies have done nothing to prevent or address the current crisis. The Ayotte Amendments would commit a grave error by allocating further resources toward sentencing requirements that have proven to be ineffective.

Fentanyl punishments are already harsher than those for heroin – current law requires far less fentanyl than heroin to trigger the mandatory minimum sentences designated in 21 U.S.C. §841. The Ayotte Amendments would exacerbate an already tenuous policy – the drug quantities for both heroin and fentanyl outlined in §841 are not themselves based in science or expert testimony, but rather were picked at random in an election year during an era of lawmakers being “tough-on-crime.”

Senator Ayotte has expressed the desire to “improve efforts to get this drug off the streets and appropriately prosecute those individuals and organizations who are profiting off of it.”7 The Ayotte Amendments would not achieve this, but would rather incarcerate low-level distributors and individuals who struggle with addiction. In a time when nearly 1 in 100 Americans is incarcerated8 and populations of color continue to be disproportionately affected by convictions and harsh sentences,9 we must embrace a public-health approach to combatting the harmful effects of fentanyl and other opioids. For these reasons, we strongly urge you to oppose the Ayotte Amendments, S. AMDT. 4082 and S. AMDT. 4083, to the NDAA.


American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
AIDS Alabama
Amity Foundation
Bend the Arc Jewish Action
CAN-DO Foundation
Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice
Chicago Recovery Alliance
The CHOW Project
Church of the Brethren, Office of Public Witness
Church of Scientology National Affairs Office
Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants (CURE)
Civic Trust Public Lobbying Company
Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition
Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH).
The Daniel Initiative
Disciples Center for Public Witness
Drug Policy Alliance Drug Policy Forum of Hawai'i
Drug Truth Network
Ella Baker Center for Human Rights
Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM)
Families for Sensible Drug Policy
Federal Public and Community Defenders
Friends Committee on National Legislation
The Global Justice Institute
Help Not Handcuffs
Housing Works
Human Rights Watch
Humboldt Institute for Harm Reduction
Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy
International Council of Community Churches
Law Enforcement Against Prohibition
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
Life for Pot
Los Angeles Regional Reentry Partnership Metropolitan Community Churches
Michigan NORML
Mommieactivist and Sons
Moms United to end the War on Drugs
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc
National Alliance for Medication Assisted Recovery
The National Assn of County Behavioral Health and Developmental Disability Directors (NACBHDD)
National Council of Jewish Women
The National Assn for Rural Mental Health (NARMH)
National Association of Social Workers
The National Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health
The National Council of Churches
National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund
National Organization for Women
National Register of Health Service Psychologists
National Urban League
NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice
New Orleans Harm Reduction Network
One Million Americans, Ltd
Peace Alliance
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Public Justice Center
The Real Cost of Prisons Project
Reentry Central
Remove Intoxicated Drivers
Sensible Colorado
The Sentencing Project
St. Ann's Corner of Harm Reduction
Student Peace Alliance
Treatment Communities of America
T'ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights.
Unitarian Universalist Association
United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries.
United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society
Union for Reform Judaism
Virginians Against Drug Violence
VOCAL New York
Women Who Never Give Up
334 East 92nd Street Tenant Association


(1)  Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “Fentanyl: Incapacitating Agent,” last modified November 20, 2014,
(2)  Fred Bever, “Illicit Version Of Painkiller Fentanyl Makes Heroin Deadlier,” NPR, last modified August 26, 2015,
(3) Brian MacQuarrie, “DEA Details Path of Deadly Heroin Blend to N.E.,” Boston Globe, June 29, 2014,
(4)  Barry Leonard, National Drug Threat Assessment 2008 (Darby: Diane Publishing, 2009).
(5)  Donna Leinwand Leger, “DEA: Deaths from fentanyl-laced heroin surging,” USA Today, last modified March 18, 2015,
(6)  “21 U.S. Code § 841 – Prohibited acts A,” Legal Information Institute, Cornell University Law School,
(7)  “Ayotte Introduces Bill to Reform Fentanyl Trafficking Penalties,” Kelly Ayotte, Senator for New Hampshire, Sept. 10, 2015,
(8)  Adam Liptak, “1 in 100 U.S. Adults Behind Bars, New Study Says,” New York Times, Feb. 28, 2008,
(9)  “Racial Disparities in Sentencing,” ACLU, Oct. 27, 2014,

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Washington Report Summer 2016

Read the Full Washington Report, Click HERE

Finding the Courage to Confront, Lament, & Heal: A Response to Mark Charles' "The Doctrine of Discovery and Truth and Conciliation"

On the afternoon of my first day as a summer fellow for the Office of Public Witness, I had the opportunity to attend a seminar being held by Navajo theologian Mark Charles entitled “The Doctrine of Discovery and Truth and Conciliation.” Mr. Charles began with a simple disclaimer: that his audience may not like, nor be comfortable, with what he was prepared to present. The presentation was on the history of human rights abuses against Native Americans, and as a Native American himself, Charles was visibly invested in the material at hand.

He told a counter-narrative of the “discovery” of the US and subsequent westward expansion. By his telling, the American people were not a valiant collective of righteous men and women seeking independence on both a religious and ultimately national scale. Rather, they were a band of thieves; justifying violence and genocide through twisted interpretations of Scripture, and marginalizing all those who dared contest the pursuit of an inherently racist and exclusive ‘American Dream.’

Midway through his presentation, Charles asked his audience to emote for him. He called on us to describe in a few words our emotional reaction to what he had delivered thus far, and in return was given responses ranging from ‘ashamed’ to ‘disturbed.’ When called on to respond, my first thought was to ask the very question which had racked my mind from the outset of the presentation:

How do we talk about ‘saving’ a stolen country?

It is the ongoing theme among American leaders, especially those vying for office in the current election cycle; American democracy needs saving from the corrupt figures, defective policy, and broken systems in which it is ensnared. We talk about saving our people from hunger and poverty, conflict and oppression. But how do we have that conversation, while also recognizing that the very system we wish to save is one which was originally built on injustice?

The Church faces similar challenges; our history as Christians is saturated with violence, colored with contempt for those by whom our doctrine and dogma is not shared. We have persecuted our fellow humans, committed acts of terror and violence against our fellow children of God. In which case:

How do we talk about maintaining the values of a Church which has historically wronged?

Charles’ recommendation regarding our nation’s approach to a violent history is one which I believe can be similarly applied to the Church, both within and outside of PC(USA): we need to start a dialogue. Moving on from our collective wrongdoing cannot involve the repression of the parts of our history for which we are not proud. If we are to grow and develop in our Truth, we must take ownership of the whole scope of our story. Mark Charles referred to this process as “confessing the sins of our nation” by undergoing a season of lamentation, asserting that this confrontation with Truth would serve as an outlet for healing.

One question therefore stands to be answered: will we have the courage to learn and discuss,
lament and heal?

For more information on Mark Charles' work, go to

This is a guest post from Summer Fellow Shannon Schmidt. This summer, Shannon is working on international policy under our associate for international issues, Catherine Gordon. Following her fellowship, Shannon will complete her undergraduate career as a senior at Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida.