California’s Prop 47: a Matter of Religious Principles

(a excerpt from a sermon given on 10/12/14)

I am definitely a values voter.

When faced with a political choice, I measure both candidates and ballot measures against the 7 principles of our faith. Will my vote help promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person? Will it bring more justice, equity and compassion into human relationships? Does it serve to forward the goal of a world community with peace, liberty and justice for all? Does it respect the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part?

There is one important proposition on the ballot in the upcoming election that I think can be directly to the 4 principles I just mentioned. Our Social Justice Committee has taken it on as a major focus this year, and they were very right to do so. I am talking about Proposition 47.

Like all proposed laws, the proposition is complicated. It very likely isn’t perfect, very little is. The main thrust of the initiative is to redefine many non-violent crimes, such a drug possession and petty theft, as misdemeanors rather than felonies. This will reduce our prison population significantly and will allow those convicted to perform community service or other methods of restitution instead of just serving time. The money saved will be diverted to the schools, to drug treatment programs, and to mental health and victim services.

Currently there are 2.2 million Americans in prison or in jail. We have less than 5% of the world’s population and almost 25% of the prison population. We have the highest incarceration rate in the entire world. This makes no sense.

Some of reason for this is the amount of money that is being made by the privatized prison industry. Those corporations give generously to politicians and they lobby for measures that will increase their income stream.

Some of it, too, is due to racism. African Americans are six times more likely to be sent to prison than are whites. They also serve longer sentences, often for the same type of crimes. Roughly a third of all black men are involved in the criminal justice system in some way, which can lead directly to police violence as police officers tend to see all people of color as criminals. They shoot first and ask questions later.

Racism in this country runs very deep. Rooted in the sin of slavery, buttressed by a false mythology of equal opportunity, America has held too many people of color captive as an economic underclass. Now we are simply sending them to jail, partly as a political strategy. People in jail cannot vote. In many states, people with felonies on their records cannot vote. That too is a violation of our fifth principle.

I could go on, but in many ways, I am just preaching to the choir here. I am, instead, going to refer all of you to the Social Justice Committee. They will be in the back of the hall after the service to answer any questions you might have and they also have lots of ways for you to get involved to help California make this small step toward both equity and compassion.

I do believe that passing proposition 47 will be a very good thing, and that it is very much in keeping with all of our seven principles. I am not, however, telling you how to vote. Do your research, listen to your heart, and vote your conscience. We don’t have to think alike to love alike.

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