The voting initiative is popularly known as "Souls to the Polls": an effort, usually involving African-American communities, in which church congregations attend Sunday services, and then collectively go vote. It's been a successful initiative for years, which has made an important difference in countless elections.
It's also been a target for voter-suppression campaigns. In Georgia, for example, where Republican officials at the state level continue to explore ways to make it more difficult to vote, legislators recently considered a measure that would prohibit early voting on Sundays. As part of the U.S. Senate's debate over the Democrats' "For the People Act," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) yesterday condemned the thinly veiled proposal.
"Why did the Georgia legislature only pick Sundays to say there should be no early voting on Sunday?" Schumer asked. "We know why. It's because that's the day African Americans vote in the 'Souls to the Polls' operation where they go from church to vote. It's despicable."
In fairness, it's important to emphasize that, at least for now, GOP officials in Georgia have backed off plans to eliminate Sunday voting. But as the Washington Post noted, one U.S. Senate Republican decided to defend the idea anyway.
Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) said states shouldn't hold voter events on Sundays because it's the Sabbath.... "Georgia is a Southern state just like Mississippi, and I cannot speak for Georgia, but I can speak for Mississippi on why we would never do that on Sunday," she said.
The Mississippi Republican proceeded to point to assorted examples of civic religion -- references to "In God We Trust" on American currency and sworn-in witnesses saying "so help me God," for example -- before insisting that Scripture says to "remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. So that is my response to Senator Schumer."
Oh, where to begin.
Right off the bat, it's worth mentioning the dubious wisdom of Hyde-Smith lecturing Schumer -- the nation's first-ever Jewish majority leader -- about the proper way to honor a Sunday Sabbath.
What's more, as the Mississippi Republican ought to know, civic affairs in the United States do not necessarily stop on Sundays. Earlier this year, for example, members of Congress -- including Hyde-Smith -- took the oath of office on Jan. 3 for the current legislative session. This year, Jan. 3 fell on a Sunday.
If Hyde-Smith can go to work on a Sunday to begin a new session of Congress, then why can't Black voters in Atlanta cast a ballot on a Sunday after attending church services?
There are, of course, related questions about the separation of church and state. Prohibiting Sunday voting because some Americans believe the day should be honored as holy is at odds with the basic principle that the government should remain neutral on matters of faith.
If a group of African Americans want to vote after going to church, it's not up to the state -- or Cindy Hyde-Smith -- to tell them they're practicing their religion the wrong way.
But even putting aside each of these relevant details, there's simply no reason to play cheap political games. There was no great mystery behind the proposal to ban Sunday voting in Georgia: Republican legislators were exploring ways to put Democrats at an electoral disadvantage.
It was about power, not piety. There's no point in pretending otherwise.