National Council of Churches launches ‘Freedom Summer’ initiative to mobilize voters in 2024

A view of a polling station at the Zion Baptist Church is seen on January 5, 2021, in Marietta, Georgia.
A view of a polling station at the Zion Baptist Church is seen on January 5, 2021, in Marietta, Georgia. | SANDY HUFFAKER/AFP via Getty Images

The National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA is launching a series of events known as "Freedom Summer," hoping to mobilize voters and observe the 60th anniversary of the original summer of civil rights activism.

In an announcement earlier this month, NCC, which has 37 member denominations, some of which lean theologically progressive, said that this year's Freedom Summer will begin on Juneteenth (June 19) and culminate at the Freedom Summit in Jackson, Mississippi, on Aug. 17.

Through the initiative, the NCC will offer a six-week virtual "Sunday School" that organizers say will "teach the principles of civic engagement, social justice, and the importance of voting rights from a faith-based perspective." The NCC will also appoint "freedom fellows" to help churches organize "engagement activities," which will include voter registration, community canvassing and phone and text banking. 

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NCC will focus on registering voters in "five priority states" — Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Mississippi and North Carolina — and will conduct a Freedom Ride tour with stops in Jacksonville, Florida; Atlanta, Georgia; Durham, North Carolina; Detroit, Michigan; and Jackson, Mississippi.

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, chair of NCC's Governing Board, said there are parallels between 1964 and the present day.

"The Freedom Summer of 1964 led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 making it possible for thousands of disenfranchised to vote. In 2013 the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act enabling new restrictions to the constitutional right to vote," stated Eaton.

"The Freedom Summer of 1964 turned deadly. The Freedom Summer of 2024 is still a matter of life and death. We dare not stand idle — too much is at stake. … We call upon all people of faith, our member communions, and partner organizations to mobilize for this movement."

Eaton said that as NCC supporters "follow in the footsteps of Freedom Summer 1964, let us educate, engage, and empower voters around the country to take part in the democratic process this upcoming election season."

In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in Shelby v. Holder to strike down a Voting Rights Act component requiring certain districts to get federal approval before making changes to their election rules.

While many progressives denounced the ruling, claiming it was still necessary to protect the right to vote, many conservatives argued that the measure no longer prevented discrimination.

"Times have changed, and the widespread, official discrimination that caused large disparities in black and white voter turnout have long since disappeared," wrote Roger Clegg and Hans von Spakovsky for National Review in July 2013.

"In fact, the Census Bureau reported that blacks voted at a higher rate than whites nationally by more than two percentage points. Black turnout is consistently higher in the formerly covered jurisdictions than in the rest of the nation."

NCC is not the only left-leaning Christian organization trying to mobilize voters in the months before the 2024 presidential election in November.

The Episcopal Church's Office of Government Relations is overseeing the Episcopal Election Activators program, which trains people in things like voter registration and education.

OGR Church Relations Officer Alan Yarborough told The Christian Post in a February interview that the program was originally launched in 2022 for the midterm elections.

"Through the program, we aim to motivate people to help their local churches serve their communities by promoting informed, respectful civic education and participation," said Yarborough.

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