A Voice for the Voiceless

Vantage Point

Though the Christian Reformed Church is a bi-national denomination, we should all be saddened by the virtual disenfranchisement of ex-offenders in Iowa and Florida.

They used to have the automatic right to vote upon completion of their sentences. But new governors changed all that with a stroke of their pens.

Prisoners and ex-offenders have long been a popular group for politicians to beat up and use to their advantage. But this move goes beyond politics as usual and strips citizens of a fundamental democratic right. It’s wrong and incredibly damaging to our country.

God is restoring his creation in Jesus Christ (Col. 1:20). As God’s children (both governors identify as Christian) we share in this restoration. Is it not ironic that inmates who have paid the price imposed by society are not restored to full citizenship?

We’ve learned over the centuries that democracy should never be a right merely for a privileged few. This move of the governors is regressive and harks back to when Jim Crow laws kept certain people out of the voting booth and even to when only wealthy white men could vote.

Extending the punishment of ex-offenders this way is also bad for our nations. Supporters of the felon disenfranchisement movement would have you believe ex-offenders shouldn’t be trusted to vote. Isn’t it ironic that the very governors who signed this legislation were elected with “returning citizens” in the voter mix!

While it’s easy for politicians to play the fear card, what we should really be concerned about is what happens to released prisoners who can’t reintegrate into society. By now we have learned that punishing our way out of the crime problem has been an abysmal failure.

If we treat people like second-class citizens, what outcome can we expect?

If we treat people like second-class citizens, what outcome can we expect? Shouldn’t our goal be to keep people off the entitlement fringes of society and encourage participation in the economic mainstream? But with no voice, how can they possibly get invested in their communities? And what about their children?

We encourage all citizens to raise questions about this writing off of the “least of these.” And if states can’t get it right, we support the Democracy Restoration Act to ensure at the federal level the right for all to vote.

A final thought: would Jesus exclude his brothers and sisters (Matt. 25:31-46)? On the contrary, he would speak out as “a voice for the voiceless,” and so should we (Prov. 31:8-9).

If we treat people like second-class citizens, what outcome can we expect?

About the Authors

Rev. H. David Schuringa is a Christian Reformed minister serving as President of Crossroad Bible Institute, Grand Rapids, MI.

Chaplain John H. Lamsma is the Restorative Justice Project Manager for the Christian Reformed Church in North America.

See comments (2)


It is always easiest to kick a person when they are already down. How easy is it to play on people's fears and pass legislation that affects people not only with no political clout, but who can't even vote?

These governors are cowards. I know because I live in Florida.

May God have mercy on their souls.

I wonder what the authors think about continuing sex offender registration. Talk about being treated like second class citizens.

I'll give you a dime to a dollar that 99% of registered sex offenders are much more concerned about that registration than their lack of voting rights.

John? David?