Lawyer puts passion to work as new interfaith advocacy leader

| January 25, 2017 | 0 Comments

Anne Krisnik of St. Mark in St. Paul channels her passion for social justice into her role as executive director of the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition, a 45-year-old lobbying organization based in Minneapolis. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

As a Twin Cities lawyer for 30 years, Anne Krisnik channeled her passion for social justice issues into her volunteer activities, among them, two decades of cooking once a month at the Catholic Charities Family Service Center in Maplewood. She planned upon retirement to devote more time to fight systemic poverty, which she hasn’t been able to do with a full-time job.

That goal came sooner than she anticipated, but not because she retired. In April, the parishioner of St. Mark in St. Paul became the executive director of the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition, a 45-year-old lobbying organization based in Minneapolis.

“This is the Holy Spirit in action,” said Krisnik, 57, a graduate of St. Catherine University in St. Paul and the University of Minnesota Law School.

The first organization of its kind in the United States, the JRLC consists of four main partners: the Minnesota Catholic Conference, the Islamic Center of Minnesota, the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Minnesota Council of Churches. It lobbies for social justice issues that each faith tradition agrees on.

“When we’re talking about things like equity and taking care of people living in poverty, there’s a real strength in the fact that the Islamic tradition, the Jewish tradition [and] the Christian tradition all find these values to be very important,” Krisnik said. “There’s a narrative that church and state should be separate, but ultimately, we need to have faith voices when we’re setting public policy, or we’re going to leave out a lot of people.”

JRLC has members in each legislative and congressional district in the state. Part of its work is to educate people of faith about issues they care about, give them the skills to make their voices heard and mobilize them, Krisnik explained.

“The faith community does an incredibly heavy lift to help people who are struggling,” she said. “They have food shelves and shelters and emergency assistance, but that isn’t enough. And so we need to be making policy at the Capitol that recognizes these needs and advocates for these people.”

JRLC’s ultimate goal, Krisnik said, is to help pass legislation that creates a better Minnesota. Its largest annual event is the Day on the Hill, this year Feb. 23 at the St. Paul RiverCentre and State Capitol. The day includes reviewing JRLC’s legislative agenda; a keynote talk from Lisa Sharon Harper of Sojourners, a Christian social justice ministry based in Washington, D.C.; meeting in respective legislative districts and a trip to the Capitol.


Joint Religious Legislative Coalition’s Day on the Hill

People of faith from around the state gather to learn about social justice issues and how to share their concerns with legislators at the State Capitol.

Feb. 23 at the St. Paul RiverCentre and the State Capitol with keynote address from a representative of Sojourners in Washington, D.C.

For more information and to register, visit http://www.jrlc.org.


“It’s a really unique opportunity to talk to people of those other faith traditions and learn from them and learn with them about how we can work toward social justice in Minnesota,” said Krisnik, who will attend for the first time. “It can be really isolating work, so it’s really a wonderful opportunity to talk with people from across Minnesota and learn about what issues and concerns are going on in their communities and what they’re doing to raise awareness.”

JRLC’s legislative priorities include increasing funding for the Minnesota Family Investment Program, which provides temporary cash assistance to low-income families; 70 percent of recipients are children. There hasn’t been an increase in 30 years. The Minnesota Catholic Conference has also made MFIP funding a priority.

JRLC will also work to remove the marriage disincentive for families on MFIP. Often, marriage makes recipients ineligible for benefits because they’re likely to reach the $24,000 eligibility limit with their spouse’s income. A proposed bill would create an 18-month grace period after marriage when the spouse’s income wouldn’t count in determining eligibility, giving families time to plan ahead.

“We know that marriage is good for kids, it makes stable families, [and people are] more likely to stay together. Once everyone is working, you have two incomes, and emotional and financial support,” Krisnik said.

A third priority is to provide tax relief for low-income working Minnesotans.

Jason Adkins, the Minnesota Catholic Conference’s executive director, said that a Catholic executive director for JRLC is helpful because Catholic social teaching provides an ethical framework for thinking and speaking about complex policy questions.

One of the most rewarding aspects of JRLC is the board’s “deliberative process in seeking to foster common ground” and where members “build friendships rooted in their shared desire to ensure the dignity of all persons and strengthen the common good,”Adkins said.

As interfaith partners representing 80 percent of the faith community in Minnesota, the organization highlights particular issues and gives them a sense of urgency, Adkins noted.

“Through efforts like JRLC, the faith community shows it is a resource to our state and legislature, acting as its conscience rather than like a special interest or pressure group,” he said. “When we do our job well, we elevate the debate and hopefully model what politics ought to look like: civil discourse between friends. And that is an important contribution to our public life.”

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Category: From Age to Age