Faith leaders call for 'free and fair election'

By ELANA SCHOR Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — More than 1,000 clergy members, religious scholars and other faith-based advocates have signed on to a unique statement that supports a comprehensive path to "a free and fair election" and urges leaders to heed the verdict of "legitimate election results" regardless of who wins next week. 

Signatories of the statement, shared in advance with The Associated Press, include senior officials at the National Association of Evangelicals and prominent progressive pastor the Rev. William Barber, as well as two past faith advisers to former President George W. Bush. The statement's wide swath of endorsements illustrates the extent to which the unprecedented nature of a mid-pandemic election has pushed organized religion to showcase its civic power.

People line up at an early voting location near Lincoln Center on Monday in New York, the second day of early voting in New York state ahead of the Nov. 3 general election. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

After listing four basic principles, including the importance of leaders sharing "timely, accurate information about the election results" rather than misinformation, the statement goes on to state that those ideas "are central to a functioning and healthy republic and they are supported by the vast majority of Americans, yet they are being challenged in unprecedented ways in the 2020 election." 

"America is only as strong as its people's commitment to our democracy and the freedoms and rights it ensures," the joint statement adds.

Galen Carey, vice president of government relations at the evangelicals association, contrasted the current political climate with the contentious 2000 presidential election, when vote counting in the swing state of Florida was halted and Bush declared the winner following a Supreme Court ruling.

A couple stands in line as rain falls on voters waiting for the precinct to open on Oct. 19 in Miami. With its 29 electoral votes, Florida is crucial to both candidates in order to win the White House. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

"Twenty years later, we're not in that place where we can just assume that once the outcome is announced and decided, everyone can just go on with their lives and wish the new leaders well," Carey, who signed the joint statement alongside NAE President Walter Kim, said in an interview.

Other faith leaders signing the statement include John Dilulio, the first director of the White House faith-based initiative office during Bush's administration, and Stanley Carlson-Thies, who also served in Bush's faith-based office and later advised the Obama administration on faith matters while founding the nonprofit Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance.

President Donald Trump has sparked criticism for declining to fully commit to supporting a peaceful transition of power if Democratic opponent Joe Biden prevails in the battle for the White House next week. While the statement mentions neither presidential candidate by name, its signatories include several prominent Christian leaders who have backed Biden, such as retired megachurch pastor the Rev. Joel Hunter and Ron Sider, founder and president emeritus of Christians for Social Action.

Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through the Religion News Foundation. The AP is solely responsible for this content.