Faith Groups Mobilized to Raise Census Awareness with Jesus Story

The education and research arm of the nation's oldest and largest civil and human rights coalition is mobilizing faith-based organizations to raise awareness of the upcoming U.S. census among traditionally hard-to-count populations.

To mark 100 days until the 2010 census begins and to raise awareness about the importance of participating in the census, the Leadership Conference Education Fund of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR) is working with faith-based organizations for a "day of action" on Dec. 22.

So far, the organizations have produced materials to support activities around the "day of action," such as a poster noting – in six different languages (English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Creole, Korean, and Chinese) – how the parents of Jesus Christ, Joseph and Mary, went to Bethlehem to take part in the Roman census.

The poster, which has drawn fire from one prominent anti-census group, states: "This is how Jesus was born. Joseph and Mary participated in the census. Don't be afraid."

A more detailed version of the poster has also been made into a church bulletin and shares more about how Jesus and Mary traveled from Nazareth to Joseph's hometown, Bethlehem, to register for the census of the Roman Empire under the decree of Caesar Augustus.

"The 2010 census in this country will not fulfill prophecy, but it will comply with the Constitution's requirement for a count of everyone living in America once every ten years," the bulletin states.

"And it will help guarantee that our national investments go where they are most needed," it adds, noting how the census is used to determine the distribution of more than $400 billion a year in education, health care, economic development, and more.

"It helps ensure that we're all fairly represented at every level of government; and is also used to monitor and conforce civil rights law," the bulletin continues.

"We don't want a single precious child – any child of God – to be missed."

Though LCCR is a non-profit organization, the National Coalition Of Latino Clergy And Christian Leaders (CONLAMIC) took issue over its poster, calling it "anti-christian and despicable."

"An act of impious exploitation to invoke the Holy Name of Jesus for what we consider a merely secular effort, financed by taxpayers, without any respect for the Christian Faith during the Christmas Season," commented the Rev. Miguel Rivera, chairman of CONLAMIC's Board of Directors, whose organization claims to be the nation's second largest Latino Christian advocacy group.

Notably, however, the poster and the campaign is being backed by the National Hispanic Christian Leader Conference (NHCLC), the nation's largest Hispanic Christian organization and also one of a number of groups that have been informing and motivating the nation's nearly 50 million Latinos to fully participate in the 2010 Census.

NHCLC, which often refers to itself as the Hispanic National Association of Evangelicals, has partnered with prominent Latino organizations such as Esperanza, The Hispanic Pentecostal Congress and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for the "Ya es hora. !Hagase Contar!" ("It's Time. Make Yourself Count!") campaign, which seeks to mobilize immigrants in America.

The group has also been taking a stand against CONLAMIC's call for Latinos to boycott the census, arguing that a full count is critical for the continued economic and political progress of the Latino community.

"An undercount of the Latino community will do serious damage to our families and our neighborhoods," noted NHCLC CEO Dr. Jesse Miranda earlier this year, opting to describe the community with the grassroots term "Latino" rather than the government-selected term "Hispanic." "By diminishing the representation of newcomers in our democracy, an undercount will also undermine efforts to achieve comprehensive immigration reform. Encouraging anyone not to participate in the Census is simply wrong."

Currently, Hispanics and Latinos constitute 15.1 percent of the total U.S. population, or 45.4 million people, forming the second largest ethnic group after non–Hispanic White Americans. Of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the nation, almost three-quarters are Latino.

This week, faith-based organizations that have partnered with the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund (LCCREF) are being encouraged to ask churches to display the pro-census, Bible-themed poster and bulletin on or before Sunday, Dec. 20.

They are also being encouraged to ask pastors to share from the pulpit the census Christmas sermon or ask to give an announcement about the census after the service.

"While the December 22 action is focusing on outreach within faith communities, the Leadership Conference Education Fund and partner organizations are running a broader census campaign in 13 cities," LCCR announced. "Non-faith-related fact-sheets and materials are also available for download and distribution."

With more than 192 organizations, LCCR is the nation's oldest, largest, and most diverse civil and human rights coalition, representing persons of color, women, children, labor unions, individuals with disabilities, older Americans, major religious groups, gays and lesbians and civil liberties and human rights groups.

LCCR was founded in 1950 and has coordinated national lobbying efforts on behalf of every major civil rights law since 1957.

Coalition members include faith groups such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S. (NCC), the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME Church).

The mostly-liberal coalition also includes groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Human Rights Campaign (HRC), and the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), among others.