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During the Easter season, Catholics across the country demand reparations

But Zacchaeus got up and said to the Lord: “Look, Lord! Here and now, I give half of my goods to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will return to him four times the amount .” -Luke 19:8

During the holiest week of the year for Christians, worshipers across the country are hearing the language associated with Jesus’ suffering and death: the Atonement. This message mirrors the message we are now hearing from Congress regarding reparations for black Americans for the United States’ gross human rights abuses against them, from slavery to lynchings to Jim Crow laws. .

There is enough momentum in the House of Representatives to pass HR 40, which would establish a commission to study and develop reparations proposals. During Easter – and after the holiday ends – Catholics will continue to push our members of Congress to fulfill their commitment to dismantle systemic racism and advance racial equity by establishing this commission. But given the reality of Senate dynamics, we also call on President Joe Biden to establish this Executive Order Reparations Commission.

The legacy of slavery and the sanctioned discrimination that followed continue to deeply harm black communities. It is high time we made investments that end economic and employment inequality, an unjust health care system, housing segregation, and state-sanctioned police violence. The sinful legacy of white supremacy and the persistent racial wealth gap must no longer be allowed to deprive black people of good health, education and economic outcomes. Repairs are the starting point.

HR 40 – the Commission Act to Investigate and Develop Remedial Proposals for African Americans – is legislation currently pending in Congress and was first introduced more than 30 years ago by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.). This legislation has been introduced in every Congress since, most recently by Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas). In a historic first, HR 40 was successfully elected out of the Judiciary Committee last year.

Passing HR 40, which now has more than 180 congressional co-sponsors, would be our country’s first real step in addressing the role of the federal government and American institutions in the atrocity of slavery and legalized discrimination. who followed. By commissioning a report on the detrimental effects of white supremacy, HR 40 lays the groundwork for choosing to take action at the federal level that moves us toward long overdue and long needed redress.

The good news is that there are two paths to making redress a reality: Whether or not Congress does the right thing on HR 40, President Biden has the power to create an HR 40-style commission by executive order.

This kind of commission is not without precedent, and it is not a new movement. The U.S. government considered and honored claims for reparations made by other communities, including Native American tribal communities and Japanese Americans interned during World War II. In reality, we are not so far removed from the harms of the legal protection of human slavery in the United States and the profits generated by the theft of labour, knowledge and skills. Some of today’s young people are only a few generations away from enslaved ancestors or enslaved ancestors.

A worshiper kneels in an aisle in front of clergy during Ash Wednesday Mass at St. Patrick’s Church on February 17, 2021 in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Jon Cherry/Getty Images

Now is the time to address this political, economic and social wrong and its enduring legacy. At this Easter season, we must ask ourselves, how are we going to atone for the systemic ills that have oppressed so many people in this country for centuries? How can we always keep this Easter lesson before us?

Catholic teaching is clear in its call to name the evil of slavery and work towards its reparation, and believers in many faith traditions today continue this call to right the wrongs. Last year, 180 religious organizations and leaders, including my organization NETWORK, along with African-American Ministers in Action, the American Muslim Empowerment Network, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and the Union for Reform Judaism, sent a letter to House leaders asking for their support of HR 40.

Slavery is often referred to as America’s “original sin”. We have not properly atoned for this sin, but we still can. Believers have repeatedly led moral movements to advance justice and peace in our country. Now is the time for Catholics and other members of the faith community to continue pushing Congress to act.

The creation of a Federal Reparations Commission is a central way to name, understand and address our past and to rebuild. It embodies the cornerstones of our political advocacy: dismantling systemic racism, cultivating inclusive communities, rooting our economy in solidarity, and transforming our politics. To paraphrase Zacchaeus, now is the time for black Americans to receive as many rewards as necessary for there to be justice. I urge President Biden to create a commission to address the continuing impact of slavery and its vestiges now.

Mary J. Novak is the executive director of NETWORK, a national voice for Catholic social justice with more than 100,000 supporters across the country. Mary is a lawyer, educator, chaplain and spiritual director, restorative justice practitioner and activist. She is an associate of the Congrégation de Saint-Joseph and was named a Faith Leader to Watch in 2021 by the Center for American Progress.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.


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