Matt Rothschild
Op Ed

State’s Faith Leaders Decry Anti-Voter Bills

88 faith leaders and 17 faith organizations decry state bills making it harder to vote

By - Jun 13th, 2021 01:59 pm
Voters at Washington High School. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Voters at Washington High School. File photo by Jeramey Jannene.

On June 9, faith leaders in Wisconsin gathered at the SS Morris Community AME Church in Madison to decry the anti-voter bills that are circulating in the Wisconsin Legislature.

They released a statement signed by 88 faith leaders and 17 faith organizations (see the list of signatories at the end).

The Rev. Karla Garcia, who is the pastor at SS Morris, welcomed everyone to the press conference and got right down to business. She talked about the “troubled history of voter suppression” in America, adding that “these oppressive strategies continue to plague our country.”

Garcia mentioned that she is also a nurse who has taken care of many people in long-term care facilities, and she pointed out that one of the bills would limit the ability of caregivers to help such people vote. “I cannot tell you how many elderly and disabled people I’ve helped fill out absentee ballots,” she said, adding that the bill cuts close to home.

And she said that poor people and people of color would also be disadvantaged by these bills, which would make it harder for people to vote by absentee ballot. The result: These bills would “not be allowing the least of these to vote.”

Rabbi Bonnie Margulis, executive director of Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice, spoke next. She said the faith leaders have come together to express the “common belief in our democracy” and to demand that “every vote needs to be counted and every voice needs to be heard.” Like Garcia, she stressed that the bills would deny “equitable access to the polls” by making it much more difficult for the elderly, the disabled, the indefinitely confined, and people of color to vote.

Pastor Walter Lanier of the Progressive Baptist Church in Milwaukee preached about “two Americas: The America that was, and the America than can be.” The America that was, he said, consisted of slavery and the limiting of voting to only the very few – and that didn’t include Black people, Native Americans, women, and people without money.

“People are willing to kill for the America that was,” he said ominously, and referred to the insurrectionists of Jan. 6.

He urged our elected officials not to keep allying with these dangerous forces. “Wisconsin needs to get it right,” he said. Our legislators should be protecting the vote, he said, not “dividing our communities and threatening the vote.”

And he urged us to lift up “the voices of the America that can be.”

Masood Akhtar, the founder and president of We Are Many – United Against Hate, spoke next. “Wisconsin used to have a history of leading on voting rights,” he said. “Now our representatives are making it harder and harder to vote.” He added that “election fraud is very rare.” As he put it, “Our problem is not voter fraud. Our problem is voter suppression.”

The Reverend Dan Schultz of the Wisconsin Council of Churches spoke last. “For people of faith, civic participation is in our DNA,” he said. “The right to vote is grounded in every person and in the image of God. Promoting the freedom to vote is our spiritual obligation.”

Here is a list of signatories to the open letter that the faith leaders signed, which denounced the anti-voter bills:



Circle Sanctuary

Defend Democracy Action Group of the First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee

ESTHER of the Fox Valley

Illinois/Wisconsin District, Church of the Brethren

Interfaith Peace Working Group

Lutheran Office for Public Policy in Wisconsin

Madison Christian Community

Pastors United

Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church

Progressive Baptist Church

Racine Interfaith Coalition – Tamerin Hayward and Linda Boyle, co-chairs

Souls to the Polls

The First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee

Wisconsin Council of Churches

Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice


Worker Justice Wisconsin

Individuals: (congregations/organizations for identification purposes only)

Rabbi Steve Adams
Wisconsin Council of Rabbis

Masood Akhtar
President and Founder
We Are Many- United Against Hate

Rev. Dr. Marcus Allen
Pastor, Mt. Zion Baptist Church
President of African American Council of Churches

Rev. Curt Anderson
Retired UCC minister

Rev. Scott Anderson
Westminster Presbyterian Church

Dr. Peter Bakken
Coordinator for Justice and Witness
Wisconsin Council of Churches

Reverend Joseph Baring
Retired AME pastor

Rabbi Renée Bauer
Director of Chaplaincy and Outreach
Jewish Social Services of Madison

Rabbi Marc E. Berkson
Congregation Emanu-El B’ne Jeshurun

Rev. Roger Bertschausen
Interim Minister
First Unitarian Society

Rabbi Jonathan Biatch
Temple Beth El

Rev. Jen Bloesch
Interim Minister
Middleton Community Church

Cynthia Boock

Rev. Marian Boyle-Rohloff

Rev. Ruth Wagner Bradshaw
Olivet UCC

Rev. Connie R. Burkholder
Interim District Executive
Illinois/Wisconsin District
Church of the Brethren

Scott Carlson
District Superintendent
South West District
Wisconsin Annual Conference
United Methodist Church

Emily Carncross

Rev Dr. Martin Childs, Jr.
Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church

Adam Clausen
Senior Leader
Life Center Madison

Gary Crevier
ESTHER President

Rev. Kelly J. Crocker
Minister of Congregational Life
First Unitarian Society of Madison

Laura Crow
Interim pastor
Monona UMC

Reverend Janice L. Davis

Rev. Steve Davis
Interim Pastor
Calvary UCC
Twin Lakes

Rev. Tim Dean
McFarland Lutheran Church

Ruby Dow
Wisconsin Conference United Methodist Women

Susan Elias

Rev. Joseph W. Ellwanger
Hephatha Lutheran Church

Rev. Larry Engel
Five Points Lutheran Church

Rev. JoAnn Fabie
Trinity Lutheran Church

Rabbi Dena A. Feingold
Beth Hillel Temple

Rev. Melinda Feller
St. John’s UCC, Elkhart Lake
St. Paul’s UCC, Malone

The Rev. Don M. Fleischman
Rector, St Luke’s Episcopal Church
Chaplain, St. Francis House Episcopal Student Center

Rev. Dr. Jerry Folk
ELCA (retired)

Rabbi Betsy Forester
Beth Israel Center

Rev. Selena Fox
Senior Minister
Circle Sanctuary

Rev. Jeff Fox-Kline

Rev. Karla Renee Garcia
S.S. Morris Community AME Church

Rev. Reirin Gumbel
Milwaukee Zen Center

Reverend Karen Hagen
Tippecanoe Presbyterian Church

Rev. Phil Haslanger
Retired United Church of Christ minister

The Rev. Miranda Hassett
St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church

Pastor James Hawkins

Nick Hayes
Defend Democracy Action Group of the First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee

Rev. Dr. Sharol Hayner
Christ Presbyterian Church

Rev. Mary Jane Huber
St. John’s UCC

Suzy Clarkson Holstein
Plymouth UCC

Reverend Sonja Ingebritsen
Community of Hope United Church of Christ

Pastor Greg Jewison
Bethany United Methodist Church

Rev. Peder Johanson
Bethlehem Lutheran Church

Bishop Hee Soo Jung
Wisconsin Conference
United Methodist Church

Father Yeprem Kelegian
Armenian Church

Alan E. Klugman
Executive Director
Jewish Federation of Madison, Inc.

Reverend Robert Koepcke
Clergy Member
Wisconsin Conference
United Church of Christ

Rev. David Kraemer
United Unitarian Universalist Congregation
Waukesha, WI

Rev. Walter Lanier
Progressive Baptist Church

Minister Greg Lewis
President of Souls to the Polls/Pastors United

Rev. Lex Liberatore
Lake Edge UCC- part of Alliance@4200

Rev. Erica Liu
Pastor & Director of Campus Ministry

The Rev. Suzelle Lynch
Unitarian Universalist Church West

Rabbi Bonnie Margulis
Executive Director
Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice

Cantor Jacob Niemi
Temple Beth El

Rev. Jennifer Nordstrom
Senior Minister
First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee

Rev Tonen O’Connor
Milwaukee Zen Center

Rev. Beth Patton
Presbyterian Church (USA)

Rev. Kenneth L. Pennings
Associate Pastor
Orchard Ridge United Church of Christ

Rev Mary M. Pharmer

Rev. Larry D. Pinnow

Rev. Ellen Rasmussen
Brown Deer United Methodist Church

Reverend Michael Rehak
ELCA (retired)

Kathleen Rivera
Defend Democracy Action Group of the First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee

Rev. Blake Rohrer
Midvale Community Lutheran Church

Rev. Dr. Christopher Ross

Reverend Richard W Runge

Dr. Ibrahim Saeed
Board Member
Islamic Center of Madison

Rev. Tim Schaefer
First Baptist Church of Madison

Rev. Karla Schmidt
Campus Minister
The Crossing

Roger Schmidt

Rev. Dr. Larry Sexe
Retired ELCA clergy

Rev. Valerie Showalter
Madison Mennonite Church

Rabbi Natalie Louise Shribman

The Rev. Nick Utphall
Advent Lutheran of Madison Christian Community

Rev. Gloria Van Houten

Reverend Dave Werner
Retired United Methodist pastor

Rachel Yates

Rev. Steve Zekoff
United Methodist Clergy

Matt Rothschild is the executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

2 thoughts on “Op Ed: State’s Faith Leaders Decry Anti-Voter Bills”

  1. Edward Susterich says:

    The list is long, but conspicuous because of its absence:   the Catholic Church and its hierarchy.

  2. Mingus says:

    I always find it interesting that the Wisconsin Catholic Bishops stay quiet on issues like this, medical care for the poor, and basic social justices issues. Yet if an issue comes up relating to school choice or gay rights, they are very vocal with tv appearances and press releases along with cameo appearances with elected Republican officials.

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