New interfaith coalition names top ‘justice’ concerns, plans to pressure Lincoln area officials for solutions
LINCOLN — About 20 religious groups from across Lancaster County have formed a new interfaith coalition and plan to push public officials for help on two subjects: criminal justice reform and mental health care.
The Justice in Action coalition members plan to discuss their frustrations and vision for improvement during a Thursday rally at 7 p.m. at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church, 8550 Pioneers Blvd. in Lincoln.
The rally, and other efforts to come, follow a two-year buildup that started when several clergy leaders met to explore joining forces to spark change in their community.
More than 85 small-group house meetings later, eight issues emerged as most relevant or troublesome to some 600 participants, a spokesperson said. A vote held at a subsequent assembly narrowed the slate to the two burning issues the group plans to focus on in the coming year.
We want to make a lasting change in how people are treated in our community.
The interfaith group hopes to start meeting with public officials, including Lincoln City Council members and Lancaster County commissioners. Then, at a May 4 event, the group plans to ask public officials for commitments to pursue solutions on the city and county levels.
Asked about potential criminal justice-related solutions, the interfaith coalition told the Nebraska Examiner that its members would like public officials to look into expanding diversion programs and services.
“Given that 73% of those in the Lancaster County Jail are there for nonviolent offenses, we intend to look into the expansion of diversion programs and services,” the group said in a statement.
They said that county jails are the “front door to mass incarceration” and that a growing number of people are confined in the jail for nonviolent offenses because the local system lacks “sufficient tools, discretion, or community-based alternatives to address their needs while maintaining public safety.”
Of mental health care, the group said county residents are often unable to access timely and appropriate care and end up in the criminal justice system.
“We intend to seek solutions that might help recruit and maintain more mental health care providers in the community as well as mechanisms for streamlined navigation of the existing system,” the coalition’s statement said.
Courtney Wittstruck of First Presbyterian Church said she was excited to become a Justice in Action board member.
“It affords me an opportunity to ‘love my neighbor’ in a meaningful, compassionate, and impactful manner,” Wittstruck said.
Said the Rev. Tobi White of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church: “I and my congregation are most excited about the opportunity to do more than just talk about justice. We want to make a lasting change in how people are treated in our community.”
Founding member groups are: Antelope Valley Church of the Brethren; Christ UMC; Eastridge Presbyterian; First Presbyterian; First UMC – Lincoln; First UMC – Waverly; Holy Trinity Episcopal; Horizons Community; Nebraska Wesleyan University; Neighbors UMC; New Hope UMC; New Visions Community UMC; Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church; South Gate UMC; St. David’s Episcopal; St. Mark’s on the Campus Episcopal; St. Mark’s UMC; Trinity UMC; Unitarian Church of Lincoln.