News Release: Official Statement on Voting Rights Act from AME Zion Board of Bishops and Connectional Council

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. – Micah 6:8 (NIV)

VRA 1965

The leadership of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church is deeply concerned about the recent United States Supreme Court decision to strike down Section 4 (see below) of the Voting Rights Act.  Since 1965, the Voting Rights Acts has been the shield that has protected the rights of racial-ethnic minorities to vote in spite of state efforts to discriminatorily limit their voting strength.  The Voting Rights Act has been the singular protection in the pursuit of full minority enfranchisement for more than 40 years.  The VRA was the crowning achievement of the Civil Rights Movement.  This action of the Supreme Court ostensibly guts the effectiveness of the VRA.  We wholeheartedly agree with the NAACP’s assertion that this decision is an act of “extraordinary judicial overreach.”

This action of the Supreme Court conjures up 20th century images of the terrorism and intimidation of voters of color who sought to exercise their 15th amendment rights.  This is a direct attack on the power of a changing electorate and the power of African American voters in the South.  This was most recently demonstrated in the determination of minorities to vote in the 2012 Presidential Election, with tens of thousands standing in long lines after unwarranted threats and legislative measures to limit voters’ access with spurious accusations of voter fraud.  The A.M.E. Zion Church has a significant number of congregations located in the nine states directly impacted by the decision.  We stand with them and others who are calling on the Congress of the United States to immediately and forthrightly remedy this serious infraction and infringement on voting rights.

The 2006 reauthorization of the Voting Right Act received unanimous approval, stating that “the continued evidence of racially polarized voting in each of the jurisdictions covered by the expiring provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 demonstrates that racial and language minorities remain politically vulnerable, warranting the continued protection of the Voting Rights of 1965.”  The same petition indicated, “Despite the progress made by minorities under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the evidence before Congress reveals that 40 years has not been a sufficient amount of time to eliminate the vestiges of discrimination following nearly 100 years of disregard for the dictates of the 15th Amendment and to ensure that the right of all citizens to vote is protected as guaranteed by the Constitution.”

The A.M.E. Zion Church, “the Freedom Church,” has strongly believed in the American value that every individual has the sacred right to vote.  We seek to uphold that belief by striving to promote and protect this value in peaceful, nonviolent methods of education, participation, demonstration  and, when necessary, intervention.

The Board of Bishops and the Connectional Council therefore, calls on every pastor and member of the A.M.E. Zion Church to:

  • Sign the peitions of the NAACP and National Action Network which demand that Congress act now to protect voting rights
  • Join local branches of these and like oganizations to get informed and involved in this important issue
  • Call your Congresspersons and Senators urging them to vote to reinstate voting rights protections in the nine states affected by the Sumpreme Court decision
  • Join in suppot of the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington on Saturday, August 24th on the National Mall in Washington DC as a demonstration and demand for civil rights, civil liberty and economic freedom for all of American’s citizens.

Please join us as we seek to do justice, love mercy and walk (or march) humbly with our God.

For the sake of Justice,

The Board of Bishops and the Connectional Council of The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church

 

What is Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965?

SEC. 4. (a) To assure that the right of citizens of the United States to vote is not denied or abridged on account of race or color, no citizen shall be denied the right to vote in any Federal, State, or local election because of his failure to comply with any test or device in any State with respect to which the determinations have been made under subsection (b) or in any political subdivision with respect to which such determinations have been made as a separate unit, unless the United States District Court for the District of Columbia in an action for a declaratory judgment brought by such State or subdivision against the United States has determined that no such test or device has been used during the five years preceding the filing of the action for the purpose or with the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color: Provided, That no such declaratory judgment shall issue with respect to any plaintiff for a period of five years after the entry of a final judgment of any court of the United States, other than the denial of a declaratory judgment under this section, whether entered prior to or after the enactment of this Act, determining that denials or abridgments of the right to vote on account of race or color through the use of such tests or devices have occurred anywhere in the territory of such plaintiff. An action pursuant to this subsection shall be heard and determined by a court of three judges in accordance with the provisions of section 2284 of title 28 of the United States Code and any appeal shall lie to the Supreme Court. The court shall retain jurisdiction of any action pursuant to this subsection for five years after judgment and shall reopen the action upon motion of the Attorney General alleging that a test or device has been used for the purpose or with the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color.

If the Attorney General determines that he has no reason to believe that any such test or device has been used during the five years preceding the filing of the action for the purpose or with the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color, he shall consent to the entry of such judgment

(b) The provisions of subsection (a) shall apply in any State or in any political subdivision of a state which (1) the Attorney General determines maintained on November 1, 1964, any test or device, and with respect to which (2) the Director of the Census determines that less than 50 percentum of the persons of voting age residing therein were registered on November 1, 1964, or that less than 50 percentum of such persons voted in the presidential election of November 1964.

A determination or certification of the Attorney General or of the Director of the Census under this section or under section 6 or section 13 shall not be reviewable in any court and shall be effective upon publication in the Federal Register.

(c) The phrase “test or device” shall mean any requirement that a person as a prerequisite for voting or registration for voting (1) demonstrate the ability to read, write, understand, or interpret any matter, (2) demonstrate any educational achievement or his knowledge of any particular subject, (3) possess good moral character, or (4) prove his qualifications by the voucher of registered voters or members of any other class.

(d) For purposes of this section no State or political subdivision shall be determined to have engaged in the use of tests or devices for the purpose or with the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color if (1) incidents of such use have been few in number and have been promptly and effectively corrected by State or local action, (2) the continuing effect of such incidents has been eliminated, and (3) there is no reasonable probability of their recurrence in the future.

(e)

(1) Congress hereby declares that to secure the rights under the fourteenth amendment of persons educated in American-flag schools in which the predominant classroom language was other than English, it is necessary to prohibit the States from conditioning the right to vote of such persons on ability to read, write, understand, or interpret any matter in the English language.

(2) No person who demonstrates that he has successfully completed the sixth primary grade in a public school in, or a private school accredited by, any State or territory, the District of Columbia, or the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico in which the predominant classroom language was other than English, shall be denied the right to vote in any Federal, State, or local election because of his inability to read, write, understand, or interpret any matter in the English language, except that, in States in which State law provides that a different level of education is presumptive of literacy, he shall demonstrate that he has successfully completed an equivalent level of education in a public school in, or a private school accredited by, any State or territory, the District of Columbia, or the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico in which the predominant classroom language was other than English.

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