Religious leaders come together to denounce ‘religious freedom’ bills

Religious leaders and a state senator came together Tuesday morning to denounce the so-called “religious freedom” bills being introduced in the state legislature.

“As faith leaders from diverse traditions, we believe freedom of religion is one of our most fundamental rights as Americans, but religious freedom does not give any of us the right to harm or exclude others,” reads a letter signed by a diverse group of dozens of clergy from around the state.

“No one asked the faith community if we wanted this bill,” Rabbi Peter Berg said at the press conference at the state Capitol. “Nobody asked the rabbis and the priests and the imams and the ministers about a religious freedom bill.”

Rep. Sam Teasley, a Republican representing Marietta, pre-filed HB 29 on Dec. 30. State Sen. Josh McKoon has yet to file his bill but has vowed to do so since both his and Teasley’s bills failed in last year’s session.

State Sen. Nan Orrock believes a national group is behind the proposal of such bills in Georgia and across the country, but did not specify one in particular.

“Whenever you see legislation cropping up like this in state after state, it’s an effort to create an impression that there’s a public demand for this bill, which is false,” she said. “It no doubt has some coordination and some collaboration.”

The Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom is believed by many to be behind the bills. Kelvin Cochran, the former Atlanta fire chief who published an anti-gay, anti-Semitic, anti-woman book and was terminated by Mayor Kasim Reed on Jan. 6, released a statement on Jan. 11 through Alliance Defending Freedom.

A rally is being held today at the Capitol by supporters of both Cochran and the “religious freedom” bills, which Sen. Orrock believes is misguided.

“There will be every effort made to cloud this discussion with [the Cochran] incident,” she said. “But that’s a personnel incident and that was a public servant who has people working under him and who issued opinions then did not honor the request of his employer.”

Rabbi Berg agreed, saying, “That was a decision made by the mayor. That issue is going to be raised up as a false example. I frankly don’t think one has any to do with the other.”

Other religious leaders in attendance included Rev. James Lamkin of Northside Drive Baptist Church, Rev. William Flippin, Jr. of Emmanuel Lutheran Church,  Rev. David Lewicki of North Decatur Presbyterian Church, and openly gay Rev. Duncan Teague of Unitarian Universalist in Decatur.

Gov. Nathan Deal, who was sworn in for his second term on Monday, told the AJC that he sides with his Republican colleagues.

“I personally do not think that the adoption of such a law would have the negative impacts that many people portrayed it would have,” he said. “The language of the proposal would probably ameliorate some of the concerns … I don’t think anyone who proposes that legislation or supports it supports it for the purpose of discrimination.”

The letter reads in full:

Georgia Faith Leaders Unite Against Discrimination

As clergy and civil rights leaders, we are concerned to hear that some elected Georgia officials plan to introduce a “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” (RFRA), a bill that could result in discrimination and have many unintended consequences.

As faith leaders from diverse traditions, we believe freedom of religion is one of our most fundamental rights as Americans, but religious freedom does not give any of us the right to harm or exclude others.

We oppose this proposed legislation. First, it would put an individual’s religious beliefs ahead of the common good. Second, it could unleash a wave of costly lawsuits that will add burdens to both the courts and taxpayers alike. Third, it is unnecessary because our freedom of religion is already guaranteed and protected by the U.S. Constitution and Georgia’s State Constitution. Fourth, a state RFRA could legalize discrimination by allowing businesses to refuse to serve customers based on religious objections.

We believe that businesses that are open to the public should be open to everyone on the same terms. We strongly oppose giving for-profit corporations religious rights that could allow them to discriminate against employees based on any characteristic — from their religious practices to their sexual orientation. This principle harkens back to the civil rights movement and our nation’s core values of equality and justice.

We all have different views on the issue of marriage for same-sex couples, but we are united in condemnation of discrimination and in firm support of equal protection under the law.

We caution our elected leaders against supporting this unnecessary RFRA, which opens wide the door for exclusion and division. Instead, they must preserve the current protections already afforded to us through the Constitution.

Rev. Dr. James Lamkin
Pastor, Northside Drive Baptist Church, Atlanta

Rev. Dr. Cynthia Hale
Senior Pastor, Ray of Hope Christian Church, Decatur

Rev. William Flippin, Jr.

Pastor, Emmanuel Lutheran Church, Atlanta

Rev. Pamela Driesell
Senior Pastor, Trinity Presbyterian Church, Atlanta

Rabbi Peter Berg
Senior Rabbi, The Temple, Atlanta

Rev. Dr. Anne Burkholder
Associate Dean of Methodist Studies, Candler School of Theology; Glenn Memorial UMC, Atlanta

Rev. Brent Huckaby
Hope Church, Dallas

Rev. Stacey Rushing
Senior Pastor, University Heights UMC, Decatur

Rev. Andrew Harwood
Pastor, Wesley Chapel UMC, Dahlonega

Rev. Kimberly Jackson
Episcopal Chaplain to the Atlanta University Center, Absalom Jones Episcopal Center, Atlanta

Rev. Dr. Jason Haddox
St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church, Augusta

Rev. Dr. Ellen Francis Poisson
Order of Saint Helena, Augusta

Sr. Mary Priniski
Chapter Prioress, Dominicans of Adrian, Alpharetta

Rev. Julie Pennington-Russell
First Baptist Church, Decatur

Rev. Peter Wallace
Day 1, Atlanta

Rev. Dr. Beth LaRocca-Pitts
Senior Pastor, Saint Mark United Methodist Church, Atlanta

Rev. Dr. Francys Johnson
Georgia NAACP State President, Mount Moriah Baptist Church, Statesboro

Rev. Lisa Caine
Oconee St. UMC, Athens

Rev. John Turlington
Associate Pastor, Saint Mark United Methodist Church, Atlanta

Rev. Jordan Thrasher
Chaplain, Reinhardt University UMC, Waleska

Rev. Dr. Don Saliers
Druid Hills UMC, Atlanta

Rev. Lee Fullerton
Senior Pastor, Embry Hills United Methodist Church, Atlanta

Rev. Byron Thomas
Senior Pastor, Ben Hill United Methodist Church, Atlanta

Rev. Joseph McBrayer
Campus Minister and Director, Emory Wesley Fellowship, United Methodist Campus Ministry at Emory University, Atlanta

Rev. Dr. Bernice Kirkland
District Superintendent, Atlanta, East Point, College Park

Rev. Larry Fryer
Pastor, Hudson Memorial CME Church, Augusta

Rev. Dalton Rushing
Senior Pastor, North Decatur United Methodist Church, Decatur

Dr. Ron Grizzle
Director, McAfee School of Theology, Mercer University, Atlanta

Rev. Dale Sillik
Pastor of Outreach, Trinity Lutheran, Lilburn

Rev. Dr. David Bartlett
Theologian in Residence, Trinity Presbyterian Church, Atlanta

Rev. Jan Taddeo
UU Congregation of Gwinnett, Lawrenceville

Rev. Dr. Gaye Ortiz
Minister, Unitarian Universalist Church of Augusta, Augusta

Rev. Dr. Donald Randall
Affiliated Community Minister, UU Fellowship of Athens, GA, Watkinsville

Rev. Duncan E. Teague
Unitarian Universalist, Decatur

Rev. Alison Eskildsen
Parish Minister, UU Fellowship of Athens, GA, Athens

Rev. Roy Reynolds
Consulting Minister, UU (Retired Accredited Interim Minister), Atlanta

Rev. Terry Davis
Northwest UUC, Sandy Springs

Rev. Cynthia Prescott
UU Metro Atlanta North, Roswell

Rev. Patricia Palmer
Community Minister, Alpharetta

Pat Kahn
Director of Children and Family Programs, Unitarian Universalist Association Faith Development Office, Atlanta

Rev. Cassandra Howe
Minister, High Street Unitarian Universalist Church, Macon

Rev. Jonathan Rogers
UU Congregation of Atlanta, Clarkston

Kimberly Broerman
Spiritual Director, Deep Waters, Atlanta

Rev. Marti Keller
Minister, UU Women’s Federation, Decatur

Rev. Jeff Jones
Emerson Unitarian Universalist Congregation, Marietta

Elizabeth Hickman
Director of Religious Education, Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Sandy Springs, Sandy Springs

Rabbi Analia Bortz
Congregation Or Hadash, Sandy Springs

Rabbi Elana Perry
Temple Sinai, Sandy Springs

Rabbi Bradley Levenberg
Temple Sinai, Sandy Springs

Rabbi David Baylinson
The Temple, Atlanta

Rabbi Fred Greene
Temple Beth Tikvah, Roswell

Rabbi Ron Segal
Temple Sinai, Sandy Springs

Rev. Dr. Jane Page
Minister, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Statesboro and UU’s of Coastal Georgia,Statesboro and Brunswick

Imam Mohamad Jamal Daoudi
Islamic Society of Augusta

Rev. Gary Charles
Pastor, Central Presbyterian Church, Atlanta

Rabbi Loren Filson Lapidus
The Temple, Atlanta

Rabbi Stephen Rau
The Temple, Atlanta

Rabbi Lydia B. Medwin
Director of Congregational Engagement, The Temple, Atlanta

Rev. David Lewicki Co-Pastor, North Decatur Presbyterian Church, Decatur

Rev. Matthew Ruffner
Trinity Presbyterian Church, Atlanta

Rabbi Judith Beiner
Rabbi, Jewish Family and Career Services, Atlanta

Carole Maddux
Archdeacon, Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta, Roswell