By Robert Mann
Do you ever wonder how religious leaders and those in the pews can read their Bibles and then remain silent about the scandalous injustice against the poor that our society tolerates? Why isn’t the state Capitol crawling with pastors, preachers and rabbis advocating on behalf of those afflicted by poverty? Why aren’t those same religious leaders challenging their followers to storm government institutions to demand fair treatment for the powerless?
Reading the Bible is sometimes difficult, but understanding what it says about justice for the poor is not. Simply put, ignoring economic and social justice should be impossible for those who take their faith seriously.
Unfortunately, the poor are all too easy to ignore.
Over the next few weeks, you’ll see a flood of commentary about how this industry or that special interest will fare in the coming fiscal session of the Louisiana Legislature. Will wealthy taxpayers pay more in income taxes? What about small businesses?
Who knows which industries and individuals will come out ahead? Your guess is as good as mine — unless you’re wondering who the big losers will be. That’s easy. It’s always the same. It’s the poor.
In Louisiana, in particular, the working poor pay 10 percent of their income in state and local taxes, while the top 1 percent pay less than half that (4.2 percent). It’s not just that Louisiana’s tax laws are unfavorable to the working poor; it’s that we punish them with a cruel poverty surtax.
We oppress them in other ways. We offer substandard child care, housing and health care and provide dreadful legal representation when they are charged with crimes. We tolerate the usurious interest rates payday lenders impose on them.
In Louisiana, we spend about $20,000 a year to house people in prison. We spend about $10,700 a year to educate our children. In both cases, the poor get the shaft. We don’t devote the resources necessary to provide them a ticket out of poverty while giving far too many of them a free ride to the state’s penitentiary at Angola.
My wife and I have been going to Louisiana prisons for 20 years for various reasons, mostly prison ministry. Do you know how many inmates from well-to-do families I’ve met? I could count them on one hand.
“How dare you crush my people and grind the faces of the poor?” the prophet Isaiah, speaking on God’s behalf, warned religious people of Jerusalem more than 2,700 years ago.
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