Georgia Jewish Leaders Speak Out Against “Religious Freedom” Bills

March 24, 2015, 1:07 pm | Posted by

Atlanta, GA – A group of Georgia’s Jewish leaders gathered at the Capitol Rotunda Tuesday to voice their opposition to the divisive “religious freedom” legislation in the state legislature. The group cited their opposition to the bill as members of the Jewish faith, as well as the concerns they share with countless other faith leaders about the legislation.

Rabbi Michael Bernstein of Congregation Gesher L’Torah said, “This bill does not add any protections, but fails to protect Georgians from those who are biased against them. Not a single voice representing our Jewish community has come forth to champion Senate Bill 129, which purports to be a defense of religious liberty. I believe that God is diminished when we impose upon the diversity of God’s handiwork our own limited mold. Those who would pass this unfair and unnecessary legislation choose a narrow vision that divides us over the limitless possibilities of what can be accomplished together in good faith.”

“In just a few days, Jews will join together to tell the story of Passover, the story of our Exodus, a story of oppression to freedom which resonates beyond our faith alone,” said  Rabbi Loren Lapidus of The Temple. “We will remind ourselves of our responsibility as a free people to bring freedom to others, to join hands in working together for a better future. To the legislators, I would say simply this: These bills are not the freedom we seek.”

Rev. Julie Pennington Russell of First Baptist Church of Decatur said, “As a follower of Jesus Christ my faith calls me to treat every man, woman, and child as I would wish to be treated. That principle is embedded in virtually all world religions. Creating a law that defies or weakens that basic principle hurts us all.”

These leaders are among the more than 200 clergy from many different denominations who signed a letter released at the beginning of the legislative session that urged legislators not to pass the “religious freedom” bills.

The press conference is part of an ongoing campaign by Georgia clergy to lobby against the passage of controversial “religious freedom” bills.

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Ohio Clergy Deliver Letter to DeWine Calling for Withdrawal from Immigration Lawsuit

March 12, 2015, 2:48 pm | Posted by

Nearly 200 Ohio religious leaders cite faith, family values in immigration letter to Attorney General Mike DeWine

Columbus, OH – Today, a diverse group of Ohio clergy delivered a letter signed by nearly 200 faith leaders from across the state to Attorney General Mike DeWine calling for him to withdraw from the lawsuit blocking executive action that would protect immigrant families.

The clergy appealed to Attorney General DeWine as a person of faith and prayed he leave the lawsuit.

“I am a theologically conservative evangelical. I’m here today because this is a spiritual issue,” said Rev. Dr. Carl Ruby of Central Christian Church in Springfield. “I believe that Attorney General Mike DeWine is a man of faith, but I believe that he is wrong on this issue and that his actions are hurting people that God loves.”

“For Catholics, immigration is not a political issue. It’s a moral issue. It’s a gospel issue and it’s a life issue. For us, immigration should not be another matter of politics, but only of faith,” said Sister Mary Wendeln of the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood in Cincinnati.

They asked Attorney General DeWine to instead work to protect immigrants and keep families from being separated.

“As religious leaders in Ohio, we are appealing to you Mr. DeWine. We are asking you to change your heard and mind and do the right thing – for all the children in Ohio and the United states whose families have been torn in two,” said Rev. Tim Ahrens of First Congregational Church in Columbus.

“As a pastor, I believe our immigration policies should reflect our values as a nation,” said Rev. Lynda Smith of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Athens. “Families are the foundation of our communities and should not be ripped apart.”

After praying with the member of Attorney General DeWine’s staff that received the letter, the clergy expressed hope that he would meet with them to discuss the issue and its importance to the faith community.

The text of the letter is below. The letter and full list of signers is available here.

Dear Attorney General DeWine:

As faith leaders committed to building a culture of life and family, we urge you to withdraw our state from the lawsuit seeking to block President Obama from using his executive authority to protect millions of immigrant and mixed-status families from being torn apart by deportation. The suit conflicts with pro-family values and the teachings of our faith.

Our nation’s inhumane and flawed immigration policies leave hardworking families, students and workers in constant danger of being separated indefinitely — and many in danger of deportation to countries rife with gang violence, murder and sex trafficking. To exacerbate these hazards, as the current lawsuit does, is to devalue the lives of our immigrant brothers and sisters. Comprehensive reform, not politically motivated lawsuits, are necessary to protect our fellow children of God who have come here to seek the American dream.

We hope that as a pro-life Catholic you will consider the words of Cardinal Seán O’Malley, who said during a homily at the US-Mexico border last year: “We know that the border is lined with unmarked graves of thousands who die alone and nameless.” Putting more and more families on opposite sides of this divide is something we cannot abide. Instead, we call on you not only to withdraw from the current lawsuit, but also to strongly support President Obama’s plan to defer deportation for immigrant families.

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Columbus Faith Leaders Stand With Noor Islamic Center In Solidarity Against Threats

March 10, 2015, 12:09 pm | Posted by

This morning, a diverse group of Columbus religious leaders gathered for a press conference in response to repeated threats against the Noor Islamic Center. The leaders called for an end to the violent threats, and expressed their solidarity with Columbus’s Muslim community

The Noor Center has received threats and harassing communications that include blaspheming drawings. The threats via mail and via phone have all been turned into the Hilliard Police and the FBI.

Rev. Rebecca Tollefson, Director of the Ohio Council of Churches, said, “Today, faith leaders of all backgrounds are standing shoulder to shoulder with our Islamic brothers and sisters. Distortion and misunderstanding about the basics of this faith have led to these threats.”

Rabbi Eric Woodward from Congregation Tifereth Israel said, “Jews and Muslims have a long history of getting along and being close to each other. But even if that were not the case, loving those around us is a human duty. We all stand in solidarity as people who want to worship in peace and live in peace.”

Rev. Lynda Smith of the North Unitarian Universalist Congregation said, “The Unitarian Universalist will be letting their congregations know that an attack on Muslims in an affront to us all, and to our shared values. This is why we are calling on other faith leaders to raise awareness about this injustice, this hate has to stop.”

“The increased cases of hate crime due to Islamophobia has victimized the Noor community in the last few weeks with threating calls full of profane language and harassment. These acts have frightened our community,” said Imran Malik, President of Noor Islamic Center.

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Faith Leaders, Sen. Kaine Highlight Devastating Impact of Potential King v. Burwell Ruling

March 5, 2015, 5:24 pm | Posted by

Washington, DC – Today, prominent national religious leaders joined U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine to discuss the devastating potential consequences of a negative ruling in the King v. Burwell case that was argued before the Supreme Court yesterday.

“In his letter to the faithful on Ash Wednesday, Pope Francis called us to be islands in the sea of indifference. The Affordable Care Act reaches into the lives of people who have been drowned in the sea of indifference,” said Sen. Tim Kaine. “We need to pray for the Supreme Court to have the wisdom to understand something that is very, very plain.”

The faith community played an integral role in organizing and advocating for the passage of healthcare reform – including many of today’s speakers. Now that the law is once again threatened in the Supreme Court, these leaders are working to raise awareness of the disastrous moral consequences of a negative ruling in King v. Burwell, as well as reaffirm their commitment to fighting for quality, affordable healthcare for all Americans.

“If every person is created in the image and likeness of God, doesn’t that mean they deserve access to healthcare? Millions of souls across the United States have found quality, affordable healthcare, and if the Supreme Court rules with the plaintiffs in this case, it will cause incredible suffering. This is a moral imperative,” said Rabbi Jonah Pesner, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

The faith leaders stressed that the focus must remain the Americans whose healthcare and lives were at risk.

“This case is about more than six words. And while we might want to say that it is about just words, as a person of faith, I know this is about life and death,” said Sister Simone Campbell, Executive Director of NETWORK Lobby and Nuns on the Bus organizer. “This is a situation where the Supreme Court can choose life. This is really about the common good, so we are advocating and praying that the Supreme Court will choose life over death.”

“We hear often about the numbers involved with the Affordable Care Act. But there’s a human side to the equation, and those numbers have human faces. There’s 11.4 million stories,” said Rev. Norman Wilson, Senior Pastor at Freedom Hall Church of the Living God in Orlando, FL and a leader with PICO National Network.

The audio from today’s call is available here.


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Clergy Announce “Faith Week of Action” to Oppose Divisive “Religious Freedom” Bills

March 3, 2015, 11:43 am | Posted by

Atlanta, GA – Today, a diverse group of Georgia faith leaders announced a Faith Week of Action in opposition to a controversial “religious freedom” bills that have been introduced in the state legislature. The Faith Week of Action is the latest part of an ongoing, clergy-led campaign against the divisive legislation. Since December, clergy have been writing op-eds, holding rallies and lobbying lawmakers, citing their concerns about the potential for an increase in discrimination against people of all backgrounds.

More than 200 clergy have now signed a letter opposing the bills. The letter will run as full-page ads on Thursday in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Marietta Daily Journal, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer and Athens Banner-Herald. The ad can be viewed here, as well as on the coalition’s website.

In addition to the newspaper ads, the clergy have organized a call-in on Tuesday, as people of faith from across the state will call their state representatives and state senators to urge them to oppose the “religious freedom” bills.

“These bills are not about religious freedom. They are about the right to discriminate—against gays and lesbians, against women, against children, against African-Americans. As a Christian pastor, I don’t want that done in my name,” said Rev. Timothy McDonald, III, Pastor of First Iconium Baptist Church.

“As a Baptist, I know that religious liberty is critical for a healthy church and a free nation. That’s why I oppose the unnecessary, dangerous Religious Freedom Restoration bills,” said Rev. Julie Pennington-Russell, Pastor of First Baptist Church of Decatur. “Hundreds of faith leaders are speaking out against this ill-conceived legislation.”

“I’m proud to stand with 200 fellow clergy opposed to these unnecessary ‘Religious Freedom’ bills,” said Rev. David Lewicki, Co-Pastor at North Decatur Presbyterian Church. “Both the U.S. Constitution and Georgia’s State Constitution already secure our religious freedom.”

Rev. McDonald, Rev. Pennington-Russell and Rev. Lewicki are all available today for interviews to discuss the clergy campaign against “religious freedom” legislation in Georgia.

The clergy are part of a growing chorus of business leaders, legal experts and people of faith who are opposing these unnecessary and harmful bills.

The full text of the clergy letter is below. The complete list of the more than 200 Georgia faith leaders who have signed the letter can be found here.

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.


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