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  • Hillels of Georgia

The Intersection of Faith and Politics: UGA Religious Organizations Encourage Students to Vote

Red & Black (October 22, 2020)

Every week, Jewish student organization UGA Hillel distributes to-go Shabbat meals to all of its student members. There’s always a container of matzo ball soup, a serving of challah and a few items that change every week.

As the 2020 presidential election approaches, the boxes are not complete without flyers for the organization’s nonpartisan election education campaign, MitzVote.

UGA Hillel is one of many University of Georgia student religious organizations ramping up efforts to encourage people to vote. Although active political participation by religious citizens might be construed as combining the church and state, these organizations can commit to nonpartisan efforts.

The Presbyterian Student Center at UGA has led registration drives in front of its building and at Tate Student Center to encourage students to vote and make sure they’re registered, said campus minister Haley Lerner.

Lerner said they haven’t seen as many people at the registration drives as they have in the past because of COVID-19, and many people have told the PSC that they’re already registered to vote. However, they’ve seen around 60-90 people at each tabling session, she said.

The PSC has also sent letters to potential voters and attempted to make sure people have access to voting, Lerner said.

“We want people to be active in what it is that they believe in and do something about that and say something about that,” Lerner said. “We believe voting is one way to do it.”

Lerner said she believes elected officials have responsibilities of governance of the systems which affect how people are able to have access to “living their full and best God-ordained life.” Voting is a way to address systems harming others and movements toward larger change that go beyond charity and caring for individuals, she said.

“Jesus was … executed by the state and was very politically active, and therefore it’s our policy to resist the same kinds of empires and to put our faith into action which has implications for politics,” Lerner said.

Ellie Reingold, a junior interdisciplinary theater and animation major and member of UGA Hillel, said religion is supposed to stay out of the political process. UGA Hillel is a community organization as much as it is a religious organization, Reingold said.

Since most of its members are secular, UGA Hillel feels it has a responsibility to wield its influence for positive community and social change, she said.

In addition to advocating for Hillel International’s MitzVote campaign, which has information about polling places, registering to vote, absentee ballots and working at polling locations, the organization has also stepped up its social media presence and has posted information about voting in the Athens area.

Reingold said UGA Hillel felt it was important to encourage students to vote because of Judaism’s tenant of tikkun olam, which means repairing the world.

“It’s our responsibility to try and make the world a better place for those who come after us,” Reingold said. “One of the ways that we incite positive change is by participating in our democracy and voting. We feel that it’s a really important thing to engage in.”

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