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1,000-plus faith leaders call for 'free and fair election'

A bipartisan, multi-denominational group of faith and community leaders came together to sign a joint statement encouraging free and fair elections.

WASHINGTON — More than 1,000 clergy members, religious scholars and other faith-based advocates have signed onto a unique statement that supports a comprehensive path to “a free and fair election” and urges leaders to heed the verdict of “legitimate election results” regardless of who wins in November.

Signatories of the statement, shared in advance with The Associated Press, include senior officials at the National Association of Evangelicals and prominent progressive pastor the Rev. William Barber, as well as two past faith advisers to former President George W. Bush. The statement’s wide swath of endorsements illustrates the extent to which the unprecedented nature of a mid-pandemic election has pushed organized religion to showcase its civic power.

After listing four basic principles, including the importance of leaders sharing “timely, accurate information about the election results” rather than misinformation, the statement goes on to state that those ideas “are central to a functioning and healthy republic and they are supported by the vast majority of Americans, yet they are being challenged in unprecedented ways in the 2020 election.”

“America is only as strong as its people’s commitment to our democracy and the freedoms and rights it ensures,” the joint statement adds.

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Galen Carey, vice president of government relations at the evangelicals association, contrasted the current political climate with the contentious 2000 presidential election, when vote counting in the swing state of Florida was halted and Bush declared the winner following a Supreme Court ruling.

Credit: AP
People line up at an early voting location near Lincoln Center Monday, Oct. 26, 2020, in New York. Early voting ahead of the Nov. 3 general election continued for the second day in New York state. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

“Twenty years later, we’re not in that place where we can just assume that once the outcome is announced and decided, everyone can just go on with their lives and wish the new leaders well,” Carey, who signed the joint statement alongside NAE President Walter Kim, said in an interview.

Other faith leaders signing the statement include John Dilulio, the first director of the White House faith-based initiative office during Bush’s administration, and Stanley Carlson-Thies, who also served in Bush’s faith-based office and later advised the Obama administration on faith matters while founding the nonprofit Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance.

President Donald Trump has sparked criticism for declining to fully commit to supporting a peaceful transition of power if Democratic opponent Joe Biden prevails in the battle for the White House next week. While the statement mentions neither presidential candidate by name, its signatories include several prominent Christian leaders who have backed Biden, such as retired megachurch pastor the Rev. Joel Hunter and Ron Sider, founder and president emeritus of Christians for Social Action.

Read the full statement below:

"We join together as leaders of faith across political, religious, and ideological differences to affirm our commitment to a free, fair, and safe election. The values of our faith traditions inform our dedication to this cause. All of the constitutional freedoms that we enjoy, including our religious freedom, depend on the integrity of our elections—the foundation of American democracy. In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and other national challenges this election season, we express our support for the following commitments and call on all public officials, civic leaders, and all people in a position of power across the country to commit to the same:

  • Our leaders must ensure a free and fair election in which all eligible Americans can safely cast their votes without interference, suppression, or fear of intimidation.
  • Leaders and election officials must count every vote in accordance with applicable laws before the election is decided, even if the process takes a longer time because of precautions in place due to COVID-19.
  • Leaders should share timely, accurate information about the election results and resist and avoid spreading misinformation.
  • Leaders must actively and publicly support a peaceful transition of power or continuation of leadership based on legitimate election results.

The commitments outlined above are central to a functioning and healthy republic and they are supported by the vast majority of Americans, yet they are being challenged in unprecedented ways in the 2020 election. America is only as strong as its people’s commitment to our democracy and the freedoms and rights it ensures. We invite our neighbors of all beliefs and backgrounds to join us in this urgent commitment to support free and fair elections, especially at this crucial moment for our democracy."