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Advocates connect people of faith to speak out


Speakers at the 2014 Eastern Washington Legislative Conference urged participants to learn about, reflect on and speak out on issues coming before the Washington State Legislature.

Workshop leader Tom Soeldner of the Faith and Environment Network said “the conference theme, ‘Dismantling the Culture of Violence’ and issues—wage theft, social safety net, immigration policies and environmental sustainability—reflect problems we have relating to others.”

His interest, the environmental sustainability, stems from his belief that people are to “live together responsibly as partners with the natural world.”  He shared information on priorities, such as Columbia River cleanup, and on coal and oil trains.

Greg Cunningham of Catholic Charities Immigration and Refugee Office, said there is a bill on immigration this year in the U.S. Senate, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act.  In this bill, border security takes precedence over legalization of current illegal residents or amnesty provisions.

The “safety net” for the poor often becomes the target in budget cutting, so Scott Cooper of Parish Social Services with Catholic Charities Spokane said that advocates often are defensive, aware that “if we lose a program it’s nearly impossible to restore it.”  Absorbing cuts since 2008, “we have sought to sustain and maintain programs, so we can restore state funding in better times.”  He applauds advocates who remind, “let’s not balance the budget on the backs of the poor” and say “budgets are moral documents.”

Paul Benz, director of the Faith Action Network of Washington, encourages networks congregations and individuals to engage people of faith in political actions.

“Congregations include people with different opinions.  We do not tell people what to do, but seek to inform people about issues.

“Because some businesses short change employee’ pay, we support efforts to end wage theft,” he said.

In a panel, Episcopal Bishop Jim Waggoner, Jr., said because all human life is sacred, he supports an initiative supporting background checks on gun purchasers.

Social worker Louise Chadez has gone to school board meetings to question Spokane Public Schools’ decision to have armed employees in schools.

Mary Lou Johnson, Angela Weber and Breean Beggs of the Smart Justice Campaign discussed the justice system.  Mary Lou challenged the need for a new jail because incarceration does not reduce recidivism.  Angela asked people to like the Smart Justice Campaign on Facebook.  Breean said criminal justice is 74 percent of the Spokane County budget.  Savings on that would have impact on all programs.

Dom Felix, an intern with the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane’s Police Accountability program said a priority is to have an independent ombudsman.

Victoria Thorpe told of efforts to abolish the death penalty as an ineffective deterrent and waste of resources.

Paul said to check with for updates on bills.  Scott referred people to the Washington State Catholic Conference at

Copyright © February 2014 - The Fig Tree