People packed the pews inside a south-side church Sunday – not to worship but to attend a Families First Town Hall.
The diverse crowd included young families and senior citizens of various ethnicities at the St. Joseph Catholic Church. Along with calling for an end to Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainments, speakers advocated for investments in early childhood education, jail diversion programs and strategies to reduce homicide rates.
The Families First platform is an initiative of Faith in Indiana and Act Indiana.
The more than 350 attendees were challenged to join a canvassing effort in the 10 weeks leading up to the midterm election. Faith in Indiana seeks to reach 10,000 disaffected, minority and excluded voters.
“We need all voices shaping our future,” said MaryJane Coursen of Beacon Heights Church of the Brethren.
The Rev. Angelo Mante empowered the crowd, saying they are the rulers of the system – not a king. The movement is bigger than partisan politics, he said.
“For too long, so-called Christians have used their religion to justify injustice in our communities,” Mante said. “Recently, our attorney general of the United States stood at a podium right here in Fort Wayne and used the Bible to justify separating families at the border. As people of faith who are deeply concerned about justice, we say, 'Enough.' ... It's time to regain our collective voice. It's time to claim our ground as the true moral majority.”
Laura Canton of Beacon Heights Church of the Brethren outlined how lawmakers can support the Families First agenda. Congress should protect health care; state lawmakers should fully fund quality prekindergarten programs and support jail diversion programs for the mentally ill; and local leaders should focus on lowering homicide rates.
She urged attendees to call Mayor Tom Henry, who did not attend the town hall. She thanked Allen County Sheriff David Gladieux for coming.
“I believe in your cause,” Gladieux said. “I understand your cause. I understand your concerns. I don't believe in scare tactics. I don't believe in ripping babies out of the arms of somebody who's just not here legally.”
His officers don't round up people who are here without legal permission, he said.
“That is not my job,” Gladieux said, earning applause. “I have – and don't take it wrong – but I've got bigger and better things to worry about.”