Sharpton: Let's Focus On Social Justice

Longtime political activist Dick Gregory (left) listens as the Rev. Al Sharpton talks about the need for black churchgoers to focus more political attention on social justice issues, Indianapolis, Ind., Oct. 31, 2006.
The Rev. Al Sharpton says it's time to get a sharper focus.

Speaking at a two-day-long meeting in Indianapolis Tuesday, the former Democratic presidential candidate criticized the Christian right for focusing too much political discussion on abortion and same-sex marriage, and said black churches should turn their attention to social justice issues like equal access to education and fighting poverty.

"We have been inundated in the faith community with bedroom sexual morality issues and not dealing with the broader moral issues of poverty, of injustice and of health care," the Rev. Al Sharpton told reporters Tuesday.

The Rev. Jeffrey Johnson, whose Eastern Star Church hosted a two-day meeting attended by Sharpton, said the issues at stake in next week's election go beyond personal morality.

"Why are half of our Afro-American boys not graduating from high school? Why is there 1.1 million more people in poverty over the past few years while we're talking about the better economy, and 11 percent of African-Americans are unemployed?" Johnson said.

Conservative Christian leaders said the problems Sharpton and Johnson cited were symptomatic of more fundamental ills.

"You've got to go beyond that and address the root causes, which is the breakdown of family and morality," said Tony Perkins, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council.

Stable homes for children will lead to better education, higher social attainment and lower incarceration rates, Perkins said.

Sharpton also condemned Indiana's new voter identification law requiring people to present government-issued documents at the polls to verify their identity.

The law will be tested in a general election for the first time next Tuesday. He compared it to poll taxes and other barriers to voting that blacks have faced in the past.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana and Indiana Democrats have challenged the voter identification law before the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. No ruling is expected before next week's election.

The law requires voters to prove citizenship when registering to vote and to show photo IDs when they go to the polls. The law was meant to make sure illegal immigrants weren't casting ballots.

Opponents of the law contend it discourages some people from voting, including the elderly, poor and disadvantaged who do not always carry identity documents such as driver's licenses or passports. Supporters say the law is necessary to prevent voting fraud and illegal immigrants from casting ballots.