Urge Congress to end slavery without exception

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” -The 13th Amendment, Section 1 

The 13th Amendment of the Constitution is understood to have ended the institution of slavery in 1865, yet the language of the amendment itself does not categorically abolish slavery but contains an exception.   

Soon after the ratification of the 13th amendment, the criminal justice system began subjecting prisoners to dangerous slavery-like working conditions without compensation. A system of “Black codes” was implemented in the South to arrest on false or minimal charges, such as vagrancy, so that they could be convicted and leased by the state for labor. Through the 1930s, states put their prisoners to work at private railways, mines, and large plantations through “convict leasing.” 

This loophole that still allows for involuntary servitude is viewed by many as contributing to the for-profit, private prison system. The legacy has evolved over decades with prison labor currently comprising a significant yet invisible portion of our country’s workforce. This 2022 report highlights the deep problems with prison labor, and recent in-depth reporting has emphasized the extent and the horrific conditions many people labor under.  Refusing to work can result in a range of punishments from write-ups, periods of solitary confinement, or loss of privileges like visitation. The amendment’s exception preserves unjust remnants of our country’s legacy of slavery and allows for the undue suffering of many of God’s beloved children. 

In 2018, General Convention passed a resolution on the issue of slavery in U.S. prisons by affirming the dignity of every human being created in the image of God, stating the Church’s opposition to all human slavery at any time, in any form, under any circumstance, and supporting efforts for changing the Constitution’s language to end slavery “without exception.” Presiding Bishop Curry recently joined the Free at Last Coalition, which along with other groups, seeks to amend the Constitution. 

You can act today by urging your members of Congress cosponsor H.J. Res. 72/S.J.Res.33 and end the exception in the 13th Amendment. 

Helpful tip: When you see the sample letter(s) to send to your members of Congress, we encourage you to personalize your message to make it more effective! 

General Convention Resolution 

2018-D013: Create a Task Force to Address Constitutional Language Allowing Slavery in US Prisons 

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