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Voting Justly

What is justice? To a Chicagoan, it’s a southwest suburb of the city, to a baseball fan he’s a superstar of the 90’s. To a Superman fan it’s what he’s all about. To most Americans it’s something that’s supposed to take place in court. To a Christian it’s an attribute of God that He desires for mankind.

Take a poll out on a street corner and ask this question. What is the book of Proverbs about? Even to the non churchgoer out there, they probably know that it’s a book about wisdom for living. It’s a bunch of really good advice so that you can get along with others, not get fired, and generally live a contented life. Certainly this is true about Proverbs. However a recent re-reading of the book revealed many verses about the way in which we should work for justice for the poor.

“I walk in the way of righteousness, In the midst of the paths of justice” Proverbs 8:10
“To do righteousness and justice Is desired by the LORD more than sacrifice.” 21:3
“The exercise of justice is joy for the righteous.” 21:15

How do you exercise justice?  Let me describe two examples here that involve our political system. 

Example 1.  Baton Rouge has a public transit system called Capitol Area Transit System (CATS)  CATS is a vital lifeline to thousands of poor here in Baton Rouge and its’ suburbs.  CATS has not done the best job in running the system.  They need more money, and so it appeared on our ballots for a vote recently.  A vote against the CATS tax would threaten to shut it down permanently.  Obviously this is a gut-wrenching decision.  A vote for it will, if city leaders are to be believed, would lead to an improved system.  The people who depend on CATS (mainly the poor) won’t have to endure hour waits at bus stops (did I mention Baton Rouge is very hot, and very rainy?).

The CATS tax is a hefty one to pay for property owners.  On a house like ours we’d have about 200 bucks added to our taxes.  (Our property taxes are extremely low here in Louisiana so it really isn’t that big of a deal).   A vote against CATS is a vote against an infefficient city ‘business’ that will probably squander the money we pay them in taxes.

Vote for the poor, or vote for taxes to stay low for us?  Doing justice, a mandate for Christ followers helps inform our choice. 

The second issue involves the schools of Baton Rouge.  Louisiana schools are organized by Parish.  There are not city school districts or town districts like in many parts of the country.  For example, there are Chicago Public Schools.  In a system like Louisiana there’d be Cook County Public Schools.  There is a procedure that allows the people of town to secede from the parish school system.  This has happened several times in the Baton Rouge area.  

There is a new attempt to secede from the Parish school system.  The state legislature is in the process of putting it on the ballot for the people of Louisiana to vote to allow for the new school district to form.  Baton Rouge schools are a large city system (I happen to be employed by them).  They’ve got quite a few failing schools.  It experienced a desegregation/bussing controversy that lasted 40 some years.  Ironically bussing led to white flight (and middle class flight) and the parish school system became overwhelmingly African American.

The new school system will undergo an interesting demographic change.  According to preliminary estimates, it will be about 75% white.  Currently there is a large poor community in south Baton Rouge that attend the schools in the area that will secede.  Those seceding will not include students from the large poor community who will then be absorbed into other schools which aren’t as successful as the ones they will be forced to leave.  We will be given the opportunity to vote to allow this part of Baton Rouge to secede.   A vote to allow it is a vote to doom poor students to low performing schools. 

Two votes for justice for the poor.  One vote occurred already.  The CATS tax passed in Baton Rouge.  1 for 1 thus far.  The vote breakdown revealed that it was widely voted against in middle class areas and widely supported in poor areas.  Another vote for the school issue is forthcoming.  Let’s hope that voters in Louisiana will vote with justice in mind regarding the schools. 

These are justice issues that Christians are expected to be concerned about.  Too often I have thought of my own well being when voting.  But these issues prove that voting can be a simple but effective way to act justly.

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