Attendees at a Sunday church service at the historic Brown Chapel in Selma, Alabama, walked out in protest following a speaker’s claim that the state is working to provide more opportunities for its residents to obtain photo identification so they can register to vote.
The words of Republican John Merrill, Alabama’s secretary of state, sparked opposition from attendees, which also included speakers Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rep. Terri Sewell (D., Ala.), and North Carolina NAACP president Dr. William Barber, who recalled the history of African Americans who fought to secure voting rights, and the role that Brown Chapel played in the 1960s prior to the adoption of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Merrill received backlash during his speech following his claim that Alabama is creating more opportunities for its residents to obtain photo identification to vote.
“We want to make sure that every eligible U.S. citizen that is a resident of Alabama is registered to vote and has a photo ID so they can participate in the electoral process at the level that they want to participate,” Merrill said.
Several attendees voiced their opposition as Merrill spoke. Others walked out, including Barber, who asserted that Merrill was being disrespectful to the setting of the service.
“Standing on this historic ground, where people died for voting rights, we cannot accept this hypocrisy of voter suppression,” Barber said. “Photo ID … voter ID is based on the lie of voter fraud. It was not an issue until African Americans and brown people started voting during the campaign for President Obama. It’s just like the poll tax. It’s being proven in court unconstitutional.”
“Too much blood is on the pews of that church and in these walls for us to sit there and not, at least. say … not cursing, but, ‘Excuse me, Mr. Secretary of State, you’re wrong,'” Barber added.
The service continued following Merrill’s speech with Sewell calling for unity and peaceful activism.
Critics claim that requiring voter identification leads to voter suppression.
Proponents of voter identification laws assert that IDs are necessary to ensure the integrity of elections, citing examples such as a report released in 2016 from the Public Interest Legal Foundation, an Indiana-based group that litigates to protect election integrity.
The foundation recently discovered that more than 1,000 illegal aliens were registered to vote in eight Virginia counties.
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