Religious beliefs often guide voters on issues. This year, religion can also inform voters about when to vote.
ST. LOUIS – For 2020, reasons for postal voting in Missouri have expanded to include COVID-19: a diagnosis or being in an at-risk category, but no worry about getting or spreading it .
“I don’t qualify for the health exemption as per the Missouri definition, and yet at the same time, I still think for me to go to a crowded polling station would be putting myself in danger or putting others in danger. danger unnecessarily, ”said Rori. Picker Niess, Executive Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of St Louis.
Instead, this year, Jewish voters can instead cite “religious beliefs or practices” as an excuse for absenteeism.
An open letter from dozens of Jewish leaders in Missouri, including Picker Niess, stresses the need to stay at home whenever possible, including when voting.
“I am not prepared to give up my vote in this election because of the pandemic, but neither am I prepared to put myself or others in danger because of the overcrowded polling stations,” she declared.
“Dear Members of the Missouri Jewish Community,
Our Jewish tradition values human life above all else.
We are taught in the first chapters of the Torah, our basic Bible text, that God created mankind in the image of the Divine (Genesis 1:27). Our rabbis teach us that to save a life is to save an entire world, and to destroy a life is to destroy an entire world. Indeed, every person has the potential to create a universe and the loss of every person is immeasurable.
The commandment to protect life extends beyond one’s own life to an obligation to protect the lives of others. The Torah says, “Neither will you endure the blood of your neighbor” (Leviticus 19:16). When a person’s life is in danger, almost all other religious laws become inapplicable.
It is for these same reasons that in this time of pandemic, our community has recognized the need to forgo all of our religious rituals in person in the hope of protecting the lives of those around us. Prayer services have been suspended or moved to the virtual sphere, the complex process of preparing bodies for burial has been severely curtailed, and even the feast of the Passover, one of our most central community feasts, has taken place. been relegated exclusively to the home.
As the pandemic continues, our Jewish teachings, laws, and traditions require us to stay home except in situations where leaving home is essential to preserving life. Wherever possible, one should do everything in his power to do whatever is necessary for the safety and security of his own home.
We, the undersigned Jewish religious leaders of Missouri, therefore believe that it is a deeply held religious belief to stay at home on election days, and such a belief qualifies under Missouri law as to vote in any regional state, or federal elections by mail ballot. “
This is the first such direction from leaders of major religions or congregations in Missouri. In the Saint-Louis region, an estimated 3 in 4 adults are Christians: there is no uniform guideline on how their beliefs fit into the absentee vote during the coronavirus.
“I am a learned theologian, I have studied Biblical politics and history,” said Reverend Darryl Gray. “I don’t know of anything in the Christian faith that would offer this kind of exemption.” Instead, the activist and political advisor to the Saint-Louis Clergy Coalition believes that more people should be able to use the “health excuse” to vote by absentee, especially blacks, who have been affected by disproportionately by COVID-19.
But Reverend Dr David Greenhaw, former president of Eden Theological Seminary, wrote his own open letter urging Christians to vote by mail during the pandemic, following the letter to the Jews of Missouri:
“It has long been the tradition of Christians to listen attentively to the teaching of rabbis. Jesus himself has been called a rabbi, by his disciples. I have just read the letter * from 35 rabbis in Missouri expressing profound religious belief That voting away during a pandemic is a staunch response, I am moved to affirm their teaching and agree with their advice. As a Christian theologian and ordained minister, I would also advise Christians to remain faithful to their faith. Voting is an important means for Christians to participate in the ordering of our common life. At the same time, the act of voting must not endanger health, nor even God forbid be a cause of death, for none of our neighbors. Love of neighbor is a Christian commandment. I will make him practice my faith and vote absent during this pandemic, I call on other Christians to do the same. “
Faith and voting can seem deeply personal – and the leaders we spoke with said: both are very important too.
“We can do everything in our power to make sure people don’t have to choose between their health and safety and their democratic values,” said Picker Niess.