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.”
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.”
“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.
“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