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Religious leaders from a variety of faith backgrounds will soon convene in Baraboo to continue work that will lend their combined voices to social justice causes around the state.

Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice, which works to unite progressive people of a diverse array of faiths, will hold its annual meeting from 4 to 6 p.m. Thursday at First United Methodist Church.

Dues-paying members will vote on a new board, but the meeting is free and open to the public, said its president, Rabbi Bonnie Margulis of Madison. The event will feature keynote speaker Ken Taylor, executive director of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, who will discuss the organization’s Race to Equity Report on racial disparities in Dane County.

Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice grew out of the 2011 protests that occurred around state budget issues and Act 10, a state law that limited collective bargaining for public sector employees. The religious community became deeply involved in the protests, which drew people to the state Capitol in droves.

“A number of us felt that we really needed to make the religious community’s voice heard in the debate about the budget and Act 10,” Margulis said.

She and many fellow religious leaders spoke at rallies, held candlelight vigils, led invocations and worked to organize. Some Madison-area rabbis came together, hoping to set up a meeting with Gov. Scott Walker to voice their concerns, Margulis said.

After holding religious text studies at the Capitol every Monday for weeks, the group eventually arranged for a meeting with several of the governor’s staff members, Margulis said. Nearly 30 faith leaders from the area attended to discuss their concerns related to collective bargaining, workers’ rights and cuts to healthcare, transportation and education.

“None of these reflect the values of the people of Wisconsin, and none of them reflect the teachings of our various religious traditions,” Margulis said of the issues.

Some members of the group continued to meet, eventually forming Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice, which works in conjunction with Madison-Area Urban Ministry and offers educational programming, advocacy training and other initiatives to address social justice concerns ranging from housing and homelessness to food insecurity and living wage issues, Margulis said.

Over the past few years, the group has developed a Food Stamp Challenge, which tasks participants with eating on the average SNAP budget of $1.29 per meal. The group also has developed a Minimum Wage Challenge and a daylong poverty simulation exercise, during which participants visit stations designed to simulate services that people living in poverty might need to navigate, Margulis said.

The organization also is piloting a three-session workshop for congregations in which members are interested in direct advocacy work. Many religious congregations provide direct services, such as food pantries, thrift stores and shelters, Margulis said, but some are reluctant to get involved in the public policy side of things.

The workshop will teach participants about the legal and logistical issues involved in such undertakings, she said.

Margulis said the group is hoping to engage potential members and other concerned residents outside of the Madison and Milwaukee areas during its annual meeting in Baraboo.

“We really want to live out the ‘Wisconsin’ in our name,” she said.

The Rev. Marianne Cotter of Baraboo’s First United Methodist Church has been involved with the organization for several years and has helped the group make connections in the area.

Margulis said that when people speak from the heart of their beliefs, from their faith, others take notice.

“The power of the religious voices cannot be overestimated,” she said.

Margulis encouraged people interested in the union of faith and social justice to attend the meeting, which is open to people of all backgrounds. The group currently includes members of Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Quaker, Unitarian Universalist and other traditions and is “trying to be as diverse as possible in every possible way,” she said.

Those interested in attending the meeting can RSVP by sending an email to Organizers are hoping to have an accurate head count by Monday.

Reporter for Capital Newspapers