Save the Internet: 12 Faith Voices You Should Hear

This piece original appeared in On Faith.

Today, the Open Internet Order becomes effective. Adopted after a year of national debate, the order codifies “net neutrality” — the principle that keeps the Internet an open and democratic space. Specifically, it bans carriers like Comcast and Verizon from blocking and slowing down websites at will, or charging sites extra fees to reach people faster.

Why are Americans of all faiths and beliefs celebrating? If carriers created “fast lanes” online, most faith and non-profit groups could not afford to be in them. Slower connection speed — even by 100 milliseconds — causes people to click away. Left behind in the slow lane, it would be much harder for people to reach their websites to connect, worship, innovate, and organize. Moreover, if carriers had the power to block websites with which they disagreed, some groups would not have a voice at all.

For many in the faith and interfaith world, the Internet has become the prophetic platform of the twenty-first century. Yet even as the Open Internet Order becomes law today, major carriers are threatening to override it through action in Congress and the courts. That’s why Faithful Internet is amplifying the voices of faith and justice leaders on the issue.

Read on to hear from 12 of the nation’s top faith and moral leaders as they call on us to protect the open Internet for the future of religious and spiritual life and interfaith action in America.

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“Right now, the web is a place where all Americans have an equal voice, regardless of color, economic status, or beliefs, and we need to keep it that way. An open Internet is vital for our organizing efforts in social justice — here in North Carolina and around the country.

“I’m calling on people of faith, and people not of faith, to send a message to our federal government to support net neutrality. Let your voice be heard.”

— Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II, leader of the Moral Mondays movement in North Carolina and President of the North Carolina NAACP

“My Christian faith teaches that we are to go to the edges of our society and hear the stories of those who are left out of our economy and outside our care. Once we have heard the stories, we are required to share them far and wide.

“Only through an open and free Internet can we even begin to do this work. Net neutrality is the way we keep the twenty-first century commons open to all engaged in the democratic process. It is the key way that ‘We the People’ can do the hard work of democracy. Protect it!”

 Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, the Catholic social justice lobby and organizer of the national “Nuns on the Bus” tour

“Today’s young people are the Internet Generation. For more than a decade, I have served as a chaplain for nonreligious students and young people — the demographic that now makes up 35 percent of young adults in the U.S. I’ve seen how this generation uses the Internet as a necessary place, not just to connect but also to change the world for the better.

“In the Humanist community, young people are using the Internet to raise millions of dollars for causes such as hurricane relief, micro-loans, and recovery from addiction. My own students and the local community have been able to package more than 120,000 healthy meals for food-insecure kids, because we could use the Internet to mobilize hundreds of volunteers and donors. Any party that threatens the open Internet jeopardizes our work — and risks losing an entire generation of supporters.

 Greg EpsteinHumanist chaplain at Harvard University

An open Internet means survival for the LGBTQ community. For LGBTQ young people who are still routinely told they are an abomination, embarrassment, or blight on the family name, the Internet is the first place they go for community and survival strategies. For parents trying to make sense of what their LGBTQ child’s experience and their own reactions, the Internet is where they turn for advice.

Surfing the Internet is the equivalent for this generation of smuggling Is the Homosexual My Neighbor off the library shelf and devouring its messages in the privacy of a bathroom stall. As such, the open Internet is the mother’s milk to the LGBTQ movement. And for all those struggling with feelings of shame and isolation because of their gender identity or sexual orientation, it is literally a lifeline.

— Dr. Sharon Groves, faith organizer and strategist and former Human Rights Campaign religion and faith program director

“As a faith-rooted organizer inspired by prophetic fire, I believe that community organizing is the pathway to achieve democracy. While face-to-face meetings are the heart and soul of traditional organizing, digital organizing is changing the face of political activism. In our Internet Age, it’s vital that we advocate for an open Internet so activists around the world can converge for love, justice, and peace.

“Net neutrality is not an option. An open Internet ensures that all voices will be heard as we build a more just, equitable, and sustainable world. Let’s stay in the fight for an open and free Internet for all God’s children!”

 Rev. Dr. Peter Heltzel, associate professor of Systematic Theology at New York Theological Seminary and director of the Micah Institute

“When a gunman opened fire inside a Sikh gurdwara in Wisconsin in the largest attack on a faith community in recent U.S. history, national media trucks left too soon. But we kept the story alive — online. A new generation of Sikh Americans and allies used the Internet to connect, pray, and organize. Through blogs, videos, tweets, and online petitions, we responded to hate with love, optimism, and a call to action.

“Thousands stood with us, and together, we persuaded the government to change the way it tracks and responds to hate crimes against our communities. The open Internet has become the lifeblood of all our movements. We cannot author our own futures without it. Only through an open Internet can we stand tall in the face of hate and walk the path of love and equality together.”

— Valarie Kaur, leading Sikh activist, lawyer, and filmmaker, who founded Groundswell Movement and co-founded Faithful Internet

“When Mike Brown was killed and left to wilt in the sun for hours, our multi-racial congregation gathered on our pulpit and prayed with our hands up. Then we organized on the open Internet. The online images of our beautiful congregation — so many lovely shades of human — doing acts of justice travelled the nation in news media like The Washington PostThe New York Times, and The Huffington Post.

“People in red and blue states, in the north and in the south, from coast to coast, have seen narrative-shaping images about the power of love and solidarity, and shared those images with friends and family on the Internet. The free and open Internet — and our ability to tell stories and change the story — will set us free.”

 Rev. Jacqueline Lewis, senior minister of Middle Collegiate Church in New York City

“In a time of great turmoil and suffering, the prophet Habakkuk cries out for a vision of hope from God. God tells Habakkuk: ‘Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it.’ The prophet is charged to bring a message of hope to the people in a way that is clear and accessible to all.

“In the twenty-first century, we, too, witness the kind of violence and misery that causes us to cry out for a vision of hope. This is a moment to ensure that people of faith and moral conscience are equipped to use the tablets of this era to articulate their visions of the Beloved Community. An open and free Internet is a critical tool for the cultivation, proclamation, and realization of our dreams for hope, justice, and peace.”

 Rev. Michael-Ray Mathews, PICO National Network clergy leader and leader of the Prophetic Voices Initiative

“In my work as a faith-inspired author, advocate, and organizer, I see how important the Internet is for people of faith. From church websites to faith-based blogs, from theological education to online fellowship, from communicating with colleagues around the globe to organizing people for action across town, people of faith are using the Internet as creatively as they used print, radio, and TV in the past.

“But the Internet has an important advantage over traditional media: its cost of entry is low, which empowers voices that couldn’t pay to get a hearing in the past. I believe it is essential to preserve the democratized Internet, and to oppose efforts of huge, unaccountable corporations to favor some voices — especially wealthy ones — and disfavor everybody else. Please support all who are protecting net neutrality, and please speak up against attempts to make the net less democratic.”

 Brian McLarenauthor, speaker, activist, and networker among innovative Christian leaders

“At Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, we use the Internet to bring people into the church and empower them to help solve our communities’ most pressing issues. Any threat to the freedom of using the open Internet to evangelize and organize for the sake of sustaining and improving people’s quality of life is an assault on our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It would be like taking away a citizen’s right to vote.

“Internet service providers cannot become gatekeepers who are allowed to adjust the volume and reach of our speech. We appeal to Congress, the FCC, and all others to do whatever is necessary to ensure strong net neutrality rules.”

 Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III, senior pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago

“As an American Muslim woman it is important for me to have an open platform like the open Internet to dispel myths about my faith and engage in important social justice movements and discussions. It affords us the opportunity to tell our own stories regardless of race, ethnicity, status, or faith uncensored. Social media and the open Internet have helped me create a voice online that preaches courage, faith, and social justice.”

 Linda Sarsour, Muslim community activist and executive director of the Arab American Association of New York

“A few months ago, I stood on a field with more than 5,000 Muslims and wept. It was a memorial for three Muslim students — Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha, and Razan Abu-Salha — who had been killed execution-style in their home in Chapel Hill by a neighbor who hated religion. As a rabbi in North Carolina, I felt it was my sacred duty to stand with the Muslim community. I also knew that many people felt the same way, but needed an outlet.

“So I joined forces with Sikh activist Valarie Kaur, and together we collected more than 4,000 prayers from people of all different faiths and beliefs — online. Our interfaith act of solidarity would not have been possible without our ability to reach people on the open Internet. We must keep the Internet an open space where we can stand with one another in the face of injustice and work for a brighter future.”

 Rabbi Eric Solomon, spiritual leader of Beth Meyer Synagogue in Raleigh, North Carolina and he serves on the Social Justice Commission of the Rabbinical Assembly