White House, faith leaders, discuss disability

American Baptists were among the participants who discussed topics including a United Nations treaty on disability ratified by 141 countries but rejected by the U.S. Senate.

By Bob Allen

American Baptist Home Mission Societies was among 16 faith groups represented at a White House meeting March 10 on issues including support within the religious community for a U.N. disability treaty opposed by conservative Republicans in the U.S. Senate.

Members of the Interfaith Disability Advocacy Coalition joined staff from the American Association of People with Disabilities in meetings with Claudia Gordon, White House liaison to the disability community, and Melissa Rogers, executive director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives, for a conversation on faith and disability.

According to American Baptist News Service, the meeting focused on efforts by IDAC, a nonpartisan group of religious and religiously affiliated organizations, including ABHMS, regarding employment of people with disabilities and reducing the stigma associated with mental health conditions.

“It is gratifying that Melissa Rogers and Claudia Gordon reacted so positively to IDAC’s past accomplishments and future advocacy plans,” said IDAC Convener Ginny Thornburgh, director of the AAPD Interfaith Initiative and wife of Dick Thornburg, the former governor of Pennsylvania, Attorney General of the United States and Under-Secretary General of the United Nations.

Topics included the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a treaty backed by the White House and former President George H.W. Bush that has been ratified by 141 countries.

Senate Republicans defeated the treaty in 2012 and efforts to bring it up again are opposed by conservative critics who claim it would allow the international community to dictate how America treats persons with disabilities, limit homeschooling and ease access to abortion.

curtis ramsey lucasdCurtis Ramsey-Lucas, managing director of resource development for American Baptist Home Mission Societies, attended the White House meeting and urged ratification of the disability treaty in a Religion News Service commentary published recently by the Washington Post.

“My faith teaches that each person is created in the image of God and therefore, regardless of physical or mental disability, has the same inherent dignity and rights,” wrote Ramsey-Lucas, who represents ABHMS on the IDAC Steering Committee.

“The teachings of many religious traditions encourage us to seek justice for all, and that includes people with disabilities, and Baptist history is rooted in a deep and abiding concern for the freedom of the individual,” he continued.

Ramsey-Lucas, who chaired the IDAC committee that wrote “Grounded in Faith: Resources on Mental Health and Gun Violence,” published by AAPD in April 2013, described Monday’s meeting as a “constructive dialogue” that opens the door for “future collaboration to expand opportunities for people with disabilities.”