- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Members of the faith community plan to join D.C. voting rights advocates today in a door-to-door lobbying campaign asking members of Congress to pass legislation granting the District a full vote in the House of Representatives.

“For these organizations, it’s a moral issue,” said Ilir Zherka, executive director of the nonprofit advocacy group D.C. Vote. “They are outraged, like other people are, that this problem has not been fixed.”

Mr. Zherka said more than a dozen religious groups have joined the organization’s efforts to pass the D.C. Fair and Equal House Voting Rights Act, which would give one House vote to the predominantly Democratic District and an additional House vote to Utah, a mostly Republican state.

Advocates for the bill’s passage plan to join members of Congress, D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and other city officials today to lobby members of the House.

Organizers said they expect as many as 500 people to turn out.

“We’re going to have basically citizen advocates,” Mr. Zherka said. “People are going to fan out, and we’re going to visit every office in the House.”

The religious groups represent a cross-section of faiths.

Officials with the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations (UUAC), which represents more than 1,000 congregations, have supported D.C. representation in Congress since its highest policy-making body adopted a resolution for its support in 1970.

“It’s a very important part of the Unitarian faith, the use of democracy,” said Ben Kidder, who attends All Souls Church, Unitarian in Northwest. “It’s a big part of the reason I support” voting rights.

In a letter to members of Congress endorsing the voting rights bill, UUAC Director Robert C. Keithan said two of the association’s basic principles are “respect for the worth and dignity of every person and the use of the democratic process.”

“By denying one of the most basic elements of democratic governance, Congress devalues the worth and dignity of all D.C. residents,” Mr. Keithan wrote. “The lack of D.C. voting representation in Congress is unfair, unethical and wrong.”

Melanie Maron, executive director of the Washington chapter of the American Jewish Committee, called the District’s lack of voting rights a “fundamental civil rights injustice.”

“We view it as more of a broad-based civil rights problem that affects Jews and non-Jews alike,” she said. “We want to see liberty and justice for all.”

Other faith-based supporters of D.C. voting rights include the Archdiocese of Washington’s D.C. Catholic Conference, United Church of Christ’s Justice and Witness Ministries and the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Church and Society.

The voting rights act has come under fire recently from critics who have questioned its constitutionality. A recent report by Kenneth R. Thomas, an attorney for the Congressional Research Service, questioned whether Congress has authority to grant the District a House seat.

While voting rights supporters acknowledged that the measure could result in a legal challenge if passed, they have countered that other scholars and analysts — namely, former federal Judge Kenneth W. Starr and Viet D. Dinh, a former assistant attorney general — have deemed the bill constitutional.

“I would rather go to the Supreme Court with the solid, thoughtful and extensive testimony of Judge Starr and professor Dinh, distinguished scholars seldom on my side on constitutional issues, than with the report prepared by Mr. Thomas,” said D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat and one of the bill’s co-sponsors.

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