Video: Proposal to Remove Slavery from VT Constitution
WHITE RIVER JUNCTION, VT – Diocesan Council welcomed Mark Hughes to its meeting at St. Paul’s on February 9 to discuss his racial justice work and a proposal to remove references to slavery from the Vermont State Constitution. Hughes is executive director of Justice For All and coordinator for the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance. His complete presentation (runtime 55 minutes) can be viewed at https://vimeo.com/316934271
Hughes challenged Diocesan Council, “Do we continue to teach our kids that we were the first state to abolish slavery? Or do we teach our kids that we are the only state who’s had slavery in their Constitution for 242 years?”
He went on to explain that according to Article 1 of the Vermont State Constitution, there are yet conditions for slavery to be considered legal. The exact verbiage says, “[T]herefore no person born in this country, or brought from over sea, ought to be holden by law, to serve any person as a servant, slave or apprentice, after arriving to the age of twenty-one years, unless bound by the person’s own consent, after arriving to such age, or bound by law for the payment of debts, damages, fines, costs, or the like.”
This is not so different from the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, Hughes asserts, which abolishes slavery “except as punishment for a crime” and has been linked to the present-day practice of commercialized prison labor. The Vermont State Constitution can only be amended every four years, which is why the discussion has been raised in 2019. Now moving through the State legislature, the bill known as PR.2 can be tracked online at https://legislature.vermont.gov/bill/status/2020/PR.2
Diocesan Council unanimously voted to lend its voice in support of the proposal to amend the Constitution, and Bishop Ely submitted a letter on February 13 to the State legislature on Council’s behalf, which was entered into the official record.