2004 Recipient: Berrien Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in St. Joseph, MI

The Bennett Awards Panel is awarding the 2004 Bennett Award for Congregational Action on Human Justice and Social Action to the Berrien Unitarian Universalist (UU) Fellowship in St. Joseph, MI. This small fellowship of 42 adult members co-sponsored with a local radio station a city-wide public forum for criminal justice reform in response to outrage in the community sparked over the death of a young African American man killed in an accident during a police pursuit. “Weighing the Scales of Justice” brought together a wide array of criminal justice officials—from a Circuit Court Judge, two criminal attorneys, the County Sherriff, the Police Chief, an officer of the State Parole Board and others—with leaders and members of the community to examine strengths and weaknesses in the justice system. Much needed reforms were identified collectively, including jury recruitment and selection, the judicial electoral process, racial profiling and racial imbalances in sentencing, overly harsh sentencing, setting of high bonds, lack of training for indigent-defense lawyers, issues of venue, and a history of wrongful convictions. The forum provided an opportunity for honest dialogue and accountability for instituting reforms was established. Thank you to the Unitarian Universalists of Berrien UU Fellowship for their courage in standing up and putting their faith and beliefs into action. Their work for the community serves as a model and inspiration to our association of congregations.

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