On Thursday, June 25, I traveled to Roanoke, Virginia with Legislative Assistant Claire Shimberg and other voting rights advocates from the DC metropolitan area. There, we joined with hundreds of concerned Americans to mark the 2 year anniversary of the Supreme Court decision Shelby County v. Holder, which gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and left voters vulnerable to discrimination. Together, we rallied for voting rights and urged Congress, especially House Judiciary Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte, to hold a hearing and restore voting rights for all.
It was incredibly exciting to come together with so many passionate and outspoken people of all ages as we advocated for such an important issue. The rally brought together numerous and diverse organizations and reminded me of the power of organizing and working together in coalitions—we are always stronger when we are united. Rabbi Kathy Cohen of Temple Emanuel in Roanoke and I both shared words of Torah and emphasized the Jewish imperative to protect the right to vote for all. My remarks can be found below:
I am Rabbi Michael Namath of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and I am thrilled to stand here today with these leaders, these great activists and advocates for voting rights. I want to thank the Leadership Conference, the local NAACP, and everyone who has worked tirelessly to make this event happen.
I do not stand here alone. I stand here with the many Jews who were Freedom Riders and civil rights lawyers in the South during the Civil Rights Movement.
I stand here today with the 17 Rabbis and Reform Jewish leaders who flew to St. Augustine at the request of Dr. King and were arrested for protesting segregation in 1964.
I stand here with those who drafted significant portions of the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act in the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism’s Library.
I stand here with those who believed then, and the many who still believe today, that the freedom and protection of our democracy is crucial to the health and well-being of our country.
I stand here with those who believe that the ability to express one’s will at the ballot box is a right no eligible citizen should be denied and is a belief that is reinforced by Jewish tradition. Our texts teach us that “a ruler is not to be appointed unless the community is first consulted” (B’rachot 55a) and to “not separate yourself from the community” (Pirkei Avot 2:4). These texts emphasize the idea that everyone must have a voice in determining how their community is run, and they remind us that voting is a collective responsibility.
I stand here today with the many rabbis – rabbis from Maine to Florida – rabbis from Virginia to California – rabbis from throughout the country – rabbis who have signed a letter to Chairman Goodlatte urging him to move forward a bill and protect voters.
I stand here today with all of you as we say to Congress, “We cannot stand idly by while eligible voters are discriminated against and forced to jump through hoops in order to carry out their constitutional right to vote.
Voting is not a partisan issue; it is not a political issue, it is a deeply religious and moral issue.”
This August will mark 50 years since the signing of the original Voting Rights Act. I pray that by the time we mark that anniversary, we will be celebrating the progress that Congress has made to protect and restore voting rights.
Rabbi Michael Namath is the Program Director at Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. This blog was originally posted on the RAC’s blog.