Ensuring an Inclusive Census with the Power of Faith Leaders

July 16, 2020  • Abigale Haug

Every ten years, the census counts each person living in the United States, regardless of where they are from, why they are in the country, and whether or not they are a citizen, documented, or otherwise. The census is constitutionally mandated, conducted by the US Census Bureau (a nonpartisan government agency), and is a count of people, not of citizens. This means that every person in the United States must be counted to have an accurate and inclusive picture of the country in 2020.

At times, it can be hard to comprehend the many ways completing the census directly impacts you, your family, and your community, but with an estimated $675 billion in federal funding a year for the next 10 years on the line for our communities, its power to transform neighborhoods cannot be ignored. The census informs how this funding will be allocated for services such as access to affordable housing, school resources, road repairs and mass transit, food assistance, health care, and other vital social services. In addition to its impact on federal funding, the 2020 census also provides information that determines the allocation of US and state congressional seats, local school district boundaries, and business development plans.

In short, the results of the census will reach every corner of your life –your daily work commute, your representation in congress, and a possible increase or decrease in business opportunities in your community.

For populations that have been historically hard to count, the stakes are especially high. For the census to accurately include populations such as recent immigrants, people of color, and “young and mobile” adults, community leaders often take responsibility and lead the charge in promoting and sharing the importance of the census thus ensuring their networks are adequately represented. At the Inclusive America Project (IAP), we believe that houses of worship, faith leaders, and faith-based social and civic organizations have the unique social capital and relationships to ensure an inclusive census count.

Strong networks and relationships are inherent in many faith communities, where leaders are seen as trustworthy sources of information.

The power of faith-based community leaders to do this work was especially clear at IAP’s November gathering of over 40 faith-based civic engagement organizations. These faith leaders, organizers, philanthropic leaders, and public officials all highlighted the integral role of relationship-building in their work—relationships they leverage to share information and empower their communities. These strong networks and relationships are inherent in many faith communities, where leaders are seen as trustworthy sources of information. This strong social fabric also means that leaders can do the important outreach needed among populations that are historically hard to count and have shown higher levels of distrust of traditional government institutions.

At the November event, Faith in Place Outreach Director Veronica Kyle reminded the group about the strengths of faith communities. “We are accountable, we can deliver, we aren’t going anywhere, and we are loyal to our causes,” she said.

Across the country and diverse faith traditions, religious leaders are already speaking up. The online publication Muslim Girl details how the census is deeply rooted in many faith traditions. It notes that in Islam, “the Prophet Muhammad conducted a census when he first migrated to Medina from Mecca to understand the population makeup and its needs.” And in the Bible, the Book of Numbers is bookended by a census, first when the Israelites leave Egypt and second before they enter Canaan.

Imam Zaid Shakir and Imam Omar Suleiman encouraged their communities to take the census by emphasizing its importance. “This is critical,” they noted. “We need every Muslim voice to be counted.” Father Michael Sorial of St. Anianus Coptic Orthodox Church explained why faith leaders should be involved in promoting the 2020 Census. “We are on the ground close to our members and its an opportunity for us to educate, inform, and help community members understand the significance and importance of this census,” he said.

When faith leaders bring their energy, commitment, and relationships to a cause, they deliver. Right now, many across the country are using their power to ensure an inclusive and accurate census count. In response, it is crucial that we listen to their messages, amplify their voices, and make sure all households are counted in the 2020 US Census.

Visit or call 844-330-2020 to complete your 2020 US Census today, and share this message on Twitter with #2020Census and #InclusiveAmerica.

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