Clergy Release Letter Opposing Controversial “Religious Freedom” Bills

January 13, 2015, 4:57 pm | Posted by

Dozens of diverse Georgia clergy cite faith, call on legislators to oppose discriminatory “religious freedom” legislation

Atlanta, GA  – A diverse group of Georgia faith leaders gathered at the Georgia State Capitol on Tuesday to call on state legislators to oppose divisive “religious freedom” bills being proposed and introduced in the upcoming session of the state legislature.

The clergy announced the release of a letter signed by more than 60 religious leaders from across the state, warning state lawmakers about the dangerous potential for an increase in discrimination against people of all backgrounds.

“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,” the letter reads, in part.

“As a rabbi, I believe religious freedom is one of our most important freedoms,” said Rabbi Peter Berg, senior rabbi at The Temple. “But this bill gives people the right to harm others, and to do so in the name of religion. That is not religious freedom. That is discrimination. The faith community did not ask for this bill, and the faith community does not support this bill.”

“I am for religious freedom, and I am for religious responsibility” said Rev. James Lamkin, pastor at Northside Drive Baptist Church. “And I am against House Bill 29. I believe we can do this because we stand strong together on the ground of religious freedom.”

Rabbi Berg and Rev. Lamkin both worked to help pass the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 1993, which supporters of H.B. 29 claim their bill is based on.

“We believe that love of neighbor guides our standing today” said Rev. William Flippin, Jr., pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran Church. “This RFRA bill infringes on ethics and our love of neighbor.”

The letter is the first action in a campaign by Georgia clergy from across the state to lobby against the passage of controversial “religious freedom” bills. 

The full text of the letter is below. The complete list of signers can be found here. Signers’ affiliations are listed for identification purposes only.

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.


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Faith Leaders Voice Support for Obama’s Executive Action on Immigration

November 20, 2014, 4:24 pm | Posted by

Religious leaders from across the country praise President Obama’s action on moral crisis, call on Congress to act

Today, a diverse group of clergy voiced their support for President Obama’s announcement of executive action to address our broken immigration system. While executive action is no substitute for long overdue legislation, the president’s action will help to strengthen families and begin to solve this moral crisis.

The following quotes from clergy are in response to the President’s announcement:


Rev. Dr. Rodney Kennedy; Pastor, First Baptist Church of Dayton:

“I believe Scripture includes a preferential option for immigrants, and we are to love them as our neighbors. President Obama’s executive order is a much-needed first step towards fixing our broken immigration system.”

Sister Maria Stacy, SND; Director, Dayton Hispanic Catholic Ministries:

“President Obama’s action will help immigrant families to maintain their unity, and will strengthen our country by allowing us to recognize the immigrants present among us. The majority of these immigrants are hard-working breadwinners and people of faith who want to pave a better way of life for their families and who will fortify the moral fiber of our nation.”

Rev. Dr. Crystal Walker; Executive Director, Greater Dayton Christian Connections:

“As Scripture calls us to care for the immigrants among us, we are challenged by the president’s executive order to put our faith into action. I am optimistic about this first step toward repairing our broken immigration system with and putting families before politics.”


Rev. Tim Ahrens, Senior Minister at First Congregational Church, Columbus:

“We are a nation of immigrants. With God guiding their steps, our forbearers came to these shores. Now is the time for all generations of immigrant people to welcome the newest Americans. With open arms, let us take them in. Just in time for Thanksgiving, welcome home to America the beautiful.”

Cantor Jack Chomsky, Cantor at Congregation Tifereth Israel, Columbus:

“Immigration has played a pivotal role in the lives of the Jewish people in the United States, and we are grateful for the opportunities that immigration has provided Jewish immigrants for hundreds of years. We are keenly aware of the tragedy that befell Jews when the gates of immigration swung mostly closed and Jews were not welcome during their time of great need. I am hopeful that the president will at last set us on the right course with actions that he announces and begins tonight.”

Rev. F. Allan Debelak, Pastor at Redeemer Lutheran Church, Columbus:

“As the president announces actions that will allow our nation to continue to welcome immigrants into our country as we have for generations, we will continue to reap the innumerable blessings that come from being a country of diversity. People are always anxious when faced with change, but with this change comes the opportunity for growth.”

Rev. Dr. Troy Jackson, Director of The AMOS Project:

“For the past two years, the prayers, petitions and laments of immigrants and people of faith have gone unanswered by Congress. I applaud President Obama’s decision to do all he can to respond, and urge Congress to follow suit with robust and humane immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship that upholds the dignity of every human being.”

Father Michael Pucke, Pastor at St. Julie Billiart Catholic Parish, Cincinnati:

“Many people are frustrated with the gridlock in Washington and are convinced that our immigration system is broken. While an executive order is not the optimum way to initiate needed changes, the fact that the House of Representatives would not consider the 2013 Senate legislation indicates that this is the only way forward. As someone who cares deeply about all families, I am happy to see this logjam broken up.”

Sister Mary Wendeln, Sister of the Most Precious Blood, member of Nuns on the Bus Ohio:

“I am excited and optimistic for the families who will benefit from President Obama’s action. It is about time that we stop playing games with the lives of our immigrant brothers and sisters – God’s chosen ones.”

North Carolina

Rev. Patrick Murphy, Spring Lake United Methodist Church, Spring Lak

“As I reflect on President Obama’s action on immigration, I remember that the God we love came to us as an immigrant child whose family was forced to flee from an oppressive government. Our immigrant brothers and sisters from have faces, names, and hopes that are no different from anyone else who calls the United States home: a chance to work, raise families, and above all, belong. I celebrate with those who have been afforded new opportunities tonight, and I continue to grieve with those whose lives still hang in the balance as they yearn for justice. May we be people of faith who welcome and stand with our immigrant brothers and sisters, remembering the compassion of Jesus Christ that extends to people from every nation, tribe, and language.”

Rev. Ismael Ruiz Millan, Director of the Hispanic House of Studies, Duke Divinity School:

“I came to the U.S. 11 years ago, and as many other immigrants my plan was to stay only for one year and go back to Mexico. I stayed because I received and accepted God’s call to serve all God’s people. It was the hospitality of many people who helped me and guided me to faithfully respond to this call. As a pastor, I have also seen the hostility that often immigrants face. Jesus Christ migrated from being in the form of God to be with and serve all humanity. The President’s announcement definitely brings relief, but a more comprehensive immigration reform is still needed.”

Rev. Edgar A. Vergara Millan, City Road United Methodist Church, Henderson

“When I reflect on this nation’s broken immigration system, I think of the thousands of desperate prayers that are lifted up before God’s throne on a daily basis asking for the opportunity to live a plentiful life here in the United States. Jesus Christ, the one who hears and is moved to compassion by those prayers was himself a stranger in a foreign land. Are we also moved to compassion?”

Rev. Lindsay Carswell, Hospital Chaplain at Duke University Medical Center:

“The American economy has heavily relied on the labor of underpaid, overworked, disrespected undocumented immigrants. The produce we eat, the buildings we inhabit, the hotel rooms we visit – they have been cared for by the hands of our new neighbors. It is time that we thank them for their service and treat them with respect.”

Rev. Brock Meyer, Stem United Methodist Church, Stem:

“During the summer months, I witness migrant neighbors from Mexico who work on local farms to support our economy without many benefits. It is startling to me to realize that much of the food that is on my table has come from the labor of migrant hands. But our legal system is not accommodating for a people who contribute to the welfare of our country. As a Christian I am moved to compassion to love my neighbor. Secondly as an American, I thought that this was to be a place of opportunity and liberty? Why do we need to continue to see a system that oppresses people for the benefit of a wealthy few?”


Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock, Ebenezer Baptist Church:

“President Obama’s decision today will free millions of new Americans from the yoke of constant fear that their families may be pulled apart at any moment. This is a moment of hope,and a step toward the day when all have a real path to pursue the American dream.”

Rev. Dr. Cynthia Hale, Ray of Hope Christian Church:

“No parent in our nation should have to fear being deported and separated from their children. That’s why I support the president taking action when Congress has blocked common-sense reform.”

Rev. Gary Charles, Central Presbyterian Church:

“Again and again, Scripture calls us to care for the alien and immigrant. Congress seems to be deaf to these words, but I applaud President Obama for using his legal authority to protect parents and children from the needless deportations that separate families and wound our economy.”


Rev. Dr. Damon Laaker, Grace Lutheran Church, Omaha:

“After months of obstruction by Congress, we’re finally seeing progress toward immigration reform that repairs our broken system and puts families before politics. I pray that the House of Representatives takes this opportunity to get back to work on a comprehensive solution.”

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Nuns on the Bus Extend Nationwide Voter Engagement Tour

October 27, 2014, 5:21 pm | Posted by

“We the People, We the Voters” campaign expanded to include events in Iowa and Wisconsin through Election Day

Washington, D.C. – The Nuns on the Bus “We the People, We the Voters” tour is extending its time on the road through Election Day, as the nuns continue their push for voter engagement and registration ahead of this year’s midterm elections.

The cross-country tour, organized by NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby, has included voter registration drives, visits to Catholic social service sites and town hall meetings in 38 cities in 10 states along a 5,252-mile route.

“In an election marked by staggering amounts of money going toward negative ads that discourage people from casting ballots, we feel called to raise a positive, faithful voice that calls on all Americans to vote,” said Nuns on the Bus leader and NETWORK Executive Director Sister Simone Campbell.

The tour’s final leg begins on October 29 in Iowa, where the tour kicked off on September 17 with Vice President Joe Biden. Stops will include Council Bluffs, Red Oak, Mason City, Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Davenport and Dubuque. The tour will then continue to Wisconsin with stops planned in La Crosse, Green Bay, Madison and Milwaukee. The nuns will be participating in canvassing and early voting events with local partners as part of their continued effort to encourage voter participation.

During the 2012 election, Sister Simone and the Nuns on the Bus helped to shift the national political debate as they traveled across the country to connect with the people, lift up the work of Catholic sisters, and be a voice for speak out against the House budget proposal that would decimate programs meant to help people in poverty. The Nuns on the Bus also took subsequent bus trips in support of Medicaid expansion and immigration reform.

Detailed information about NETWORK’s Nuns on the Bus daily schedule will be available here.

General information about NETWORK’s Nuns on the Bus available here

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Nearly 200 Faith Leaders Condemn President’s Lifting of Civilian Protections in Syria Strikes

October 7, 2014, 2:14 pm | Posted by

Washington, DC – Nearly 200 Protestant, Catholic and Evangelical faith leaders and professors issued a statement calling on the Obama administration to take stronger steps to protect civilians when carrying out airstrikes in Syria. Prominent signers include Dr. Susan Thistlethwaite, professor and former President of the Chicago Theological Seminary, Sr. Simone Campbell of NETWORK: A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby, and Baptist ethicist Dr. John Shelley.

The administration recently announced that it had scaled back criteria for ensuring that civilians are not harmed in strikes aimed at ISIL.

“News that your administration has abandoned the stated policy of making every effort to protect civilian lives in the course of drone strikes undermines America’s moral authority,” they wrote. “As people of faith, we see this as a grave moral issue.  We urge you to put back in place your policy that no strikes will take place unless there is a ‘near certainty’ that civilians will not be harmed.”

“When you mirror your enemy, you risk becoming your enemy,” said Dr. Susan Thistlethwaite, a United Church of Christ pastor and former President of the Chicago Theological Seminary. “The U.S. is now on that path and it is a profound moral mistake.”

“Our faith traditions argue that civilians must be protected in war,” said Rev. Chuck Currie, a United Church of Christ pastor and Director of the Center for Peace and Spirituality and University Chaplain at Pacific University. “We are at our best as a nation when we live up to our highest ideals. It is our sacred responsibility to protect the most vulnerable. The president must order U.S. forces to resubmit to his original policy regarding the use of drones.”

The full statement is below. The statement and full list of signers is available here. Titles are for identification purposes only.

Dear Mr. President:

We write with growing concerning over the air strikes in Syria and Iraq.  News that your administration has abandoned the stated policy of making every effort to protect civilian lives in the course of drone strikes undermines America’s moral authority.  As people of faith, we see this as a grave moral issue.  We urge you to put back in place your policy that no strikes will take place unless there is a “near certainty” that civilians will not be harmed.  

Your stated reason for engaging in military action against ISIL was to protect innocent civilians and to bolster the security of the United States against terrorist attack.  The recent deaths of civilians, which may have been preventable under your previous stated policy, will only serve to increase the fear and distrust U.S. military action in the region has produced since 2002.  It is very likely that these deaths will further radicalize the population, which only serves to weaken the national security of the United States. 

We join Human Rights Watch in calling for an investigation into whether the recent strikes in Idlib were unlawful and urge your administration to cooperate in any such investigation. 

Many in the faith community have previously expressed reservations about the strikes in Syria and Iraq. Our concerns deepen each day. Under “Just War” criteria it is a moral imperative that civilian lives be protected. We remember your words when accepting the Nobel Peace Prize:

It is undoubtedly true that development rarely takes root without security; it is also true that security does not exist where human beings do not have access to enough food, or clean water, or the medicine and shelter they need to survive. It does not exist where children can’t aspire to a decent education or a job that supports a family. The absence of hope can rot a society from within.

Airstrikes do not offer hope, particularly when those airstrikes take the lives of civilians, including children.  We expect more of you, Mr. President.

In the days after 9/11, our nation was led by fear.  In the process, we abandoned some of our most cherished values as civil liberties were curtailed and an unprovoked war – a war you called “dumb” – was waged.  We live with the consequences of those decisions today.

Fear of ISIL should not drive our nation to repeat mistakes.

At the United Nations, you told the world:

“The ideology of ISIL or al Qaeda or Boko Haram will wilt and die if it is consistently exposed and confronted and refuted in the light of day.  Look at the new Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies — Sheikh bin Bayyah described its purpose:  “We must declare war on war, so the outcome will be peace upon peace.”  Look at the young British Muslims who responded to terrorist propaganda by starting the “NotInMyName” campaign, declaring, “ISIS is hiding behind a false Islam.”  Look at the Christian and Muslim leaders who came together in the Central African Republic to reject violence; listen to the Imam who said, ‘Politics try to divide the religious in our country, but religion shouldn’t be a cause of hate, war, or strife.’”

You lifted up a series of non-violent but strong responses to the unjustified terror ISIL has unleashed.  What will fuel the ranks of ISIL and other extremist groups are the deaths of more innocent civilians.  Our job, as Americans, is to protect civilians.  There is a better chance of creating a lasting just peace if we increase foreign aid, take additional steps like the ones we are taking to fight Ebola, and serve as an example to the world that our most cherished principles cannot be broken even under threat. 

In closing, we urge in the strongest possible terms that you order American forces to return to your policy that no strikes will take place in Syria and Iraq unless there is “near certainty” that civilians will not be harmed. 


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Gov. Nathan Deal, State Sen. Carter to Meet with Georgia Clergy in Faith Forum

October 2, 2014, 3:03 pm | Posted by

Candidates will discuss values and issues with diverse Georgia faith leaders

Atlanta, GA – Gov. Nathan Deal and State Senator Jason Carter have both agreed to meet with faith leaders from across Georgia as part of the Georgia Faith Forum, where the candidates will field issues-focused and values-focused questions from clergy members of the Georgia Faith Forum board.

The forum will be live-streamed by WSB-TV Channel 2 and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and aired live by WSB Radio and KISS 104.1FM on October 22 from Trinity Presbyterian Church in Atlanta. The event will consist of separate, hour-long discussions with Governor Deal and State Senator Carter. Moderators from WSB will facilitate, and the candidates will discuss issues of common concern to the faith community such as gun policy, criminal justice, human trafficking, immigration and the future of our children.

“Trinity Presbyterian is very pleased to host the Georgia Faith Form with Governor Deal and State Senator Carter,” said Rev. Pam Driesell, Senior Pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Atlanta. “We look forward to a substantive dialogue that allows both candidates to talk in depth about their values, faith and policy priorities.”

“The faith community is vitally concerned about many current issues,” said Dr. R. Alan Culpepper, Dean of the McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University. “So we are grateful that the candidates are willing meet with us to discuss issues and possible avenues of collaboration.”

“Our congregations are hungry for a substantive dialogue that focuses on the common good instead of the usual political talking points,” said Rev. Billy Honor, Senior Pastor of New Life Presbyterian Church in College Park. “The Georgia Faith Forum will provide a conversation that reflects our values.”

“We are pleased to support the 45 diverse leaders of the Georgia Faith Forum board in holding this unique bipartisan forum,” said Rev. Jennifer Butler, CEO of Faith in Public Life, which is helping to coordinate the event. “I look forward to an event that addresses the issues and priorities that bring the faith community together.”

Further information about the Georgia Faith Forum board can be found here.

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