Georgia Clergy Applaud Defeat of “Religious Freedom” Bill

April 3, 2015, 12:36 pm | Posted by

Atlanta, GA – Today, Georgia Clergy United Against Discrimination issued the following statement on behalf of the more than 250 Georgia faith leaders who voiced their opposition to divisive “religious freedom” legislation:

We are relieved and heartened that Georgia state legislators have heard our call to back away from legislation that would have legalized discrimination in the name of religion.  Freedom of religion is one of our most fundamental rights as Americans, but religious freedom does not give us the right to harm or exclude others.  This is a victory for all Georgians. Today we have chosen to embrace a spirit of love and self-discipline over and against a spirit of division and exclusion. We’ve chosen to work for the common good, rather than sow seeds of intolerance.

A diverse coalition of Georgia clergy played an integral role in helping to defeat the RFRA bills. In addition to issuing a letter signed by more than 250 religious leaders, the clergy convened press conferences, wrote op-eds, ran newspaper ads and lobbied lawmakers. They made it clear that this dangerous legislation was not representative of Georgia’s faith community, and was fundamentally at odds with their values.

Media coverage of their actions included:

Clergy Speak Out On ‘Religious Freedom’ Bill Proposed In Ga, Associated Press

Faith leaders denounce religious liberty bill ahead of hearing, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Supporters tout “religious liberty” bill, as clergy criticize it, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Georgia Baptist clergy oppose ‘religious liberty’ bill, Baptist News Global

‘Religious Freedom’ Bill Debate Heats Up At Georgia Capitol, WABE

Georgia Baptist leaders call ‘religious freedom’ bill a ‘religious manipulation’ bill, Georgia Voice

Clergy come out against ‘religious freedom’ bill, Project Q Atlanta



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Georgia Clergy Respond to Dangerous New Gun Legislation

April 1, 2015, 1:47 pm | Posted by

Atlanta, GA – Today, a diverse group of clergy responded to the Georgia House’s passage of HB 492. The bill would further expand the state’s “guns everywhere” law, eliminating the ability of state agencies – like school boards – to regulate gun possession on their property, abolishing the fingerprint requirement for gun license renewals and reducing the discretion of probate judges to decide whether to issue gun licenses.

Georgia’s faith community is deeply concerned by this bill and the risk it poses. As they continue to organize and engage around gun legislation and its impacts on public safety, they hope that Governor Deal will consider vetoing this dangerous proposal.

The following statements are from prominent Georgia faith leaders responding to the passage of HB 492:

Bishop Robert C. Wright, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta:

“HB 492 makes our gun laws more lax. This bill solves nothing. It only creates the potential for more gun violence and increases political polarization in Georgia.”

Rabbi Neil Sandler, Senior Rabbi at Ahavath Achim Synagogue:

“The recently passed bill will tie the hands of local school boards, among other potentially helpful bodies, when it comes to regulating the possession of guns on school property.  We speak of our places of worship as ‘sanctuaries.’  When it comes to guns and the well – being of our children, shouldn’t our schools also be ‘sanctuaries’ where the most precious among us, our children, are safe and protected?”

Rev. Damon P. Williams, Senior Pastor at Providence Missionary Baptist Church:

“Expanding the ‘guns everywhere’ law is another step in the wrong direction that makes it harder to keep guns out of the hands of people who are a danger to the community.”

Rev. Matthew Ruffner, Associate Pastor at Trinity Presbyterian Church:

“Once again the legislature has shown reckless indifference to the dangers posed by irresponsible ‘guns everywhere’ laws. I’m asking Gov. Deal to pause and consider the consequences of making it easier for dangerous people to walk our streets armed.”


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Ohio Faith Leaders Urge Support for Federal Crackdown on Predatory Lending

April 1, 2015, 12:38 pm | Posted by

Columbus, OH  –  Today, faith leaders and consumer advocates joined together to support strong regulations to rein in the predatory lending practices of payday lenders. The press conference follows proposed draft rules by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) that call for reigning in short-term loans that often have interest rates in excess of 400 percent.

In 2008, Ohio voters overwhelmingly supported a ballot issue to cap interest rates at 28 percent.  However, the payday industry has found loopholes to continue to take advantage of Ohio borrowers.

“The payday lending crowd found a loophole and things got even worse,’’ explained Bill Faith, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio and who led the 2008 campaign. “Voters have made themselves clear by a two-to-one margin that they want to see regulation on these short term, high interest rate loans. We are happy to see the CFPB is taking some action.This issue requires a comprehensive national solution.”

Others who spoke include, Sister Roberta Miller, Dominican Sisters of Peace who said, “I have seen students who sometimes have two or three jobs struggle with this debt. And my own faith believes that this debt is wrong.”

“Many of you may know that Pope Francis believes that when a family gets caught up in debt and they can’t provide the clothing, food and shelter that they need. This is not Christian, and not even human,” said Miller.

Faith Leaders across Ohio joined together to release a letter signed by nearly 100 clergy calling for an end to predatory lending practices. “Scripture is replete with condemnations of those who prey upon the poor, vulnerable and weak people,” says the letter, in part.

Rev. Deniray Mueller, of Columbus said that, “Ohio clergy have united in sending a letter to the Bureau and the legislators to try and make them realize they have an obligation to end these immoral lending practices. If they are Christian, then they need to listen to their moral compass.”

Participants in the press conference said they will work to strengthen and improve the proposed new federal rules.

The text of the letter from faith leaders is below. The letter and full list of signers can be found here.

As faith leaders, we hold diverse views on many issues, but we are united in the belief that usury is a sin. We therefore oppose the predatory practices of payday lenders who charge up to 400% interest on loans that trap struggling families, seniors, low-wage workers and veterans in a cycle of debt that leads to poverty, suffering and bankruptcy. Scripture is replete with condemnations of those who prey upon poor, vulnerable and weak people.

Right now, abuses such as exorbitant interest rates, extending loans to people who clearly cannot repay them, and directly siphoning money from borrowers’ bank accounts even if they can’t afford food and shelter are perfectly legal. This is unconscionable, and it must change.

While payday lenders claim to provide quick emergency loans that help people get out of financial trouble, the reverse is true. The average payday loan borrower is still paying off debt six months after taking out her first payday loan. More than half of all payday loans get renewed or rolled over so many times that the borrower eventually repays twice the amount borrowed in the first place. All too often, borrowers’ credit is left in ruins. These loans lead to poverty, not security.

In 2008, the Ohio faith community came together to champion reform of the egregious practices of payday lenders in our state. We supported passage of the Ohio Short-Term Loan Act and then defended it at the ballot. But the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that the Act was not sufficient to regulate payday lenders, and payday lending has grown. Families again often face over 400% interest rates as unscrupulous lenders take advantage of arcane lending laws. 

We call on you to urge the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to issue a strong regulation in order to end the payday loan debt trap and support legislation capping the rates on payday loans at 36% annualized interest. These are two complementary and important steps that help protect Ohioans from predatory debt.

Many issues you face as an elected official are morally complex, with competing legitimate moral arguments on both sides. But there is no moral ambiguity about whether to end predatory payday lending practices. We urge you to fulfill your responsibility as a public servant.


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Nearly 400 Catholic, Evangelical Leaders Issue Holy Week Call to End Death Penalty

March 31, 2015, 10:43 am | Posted by

As Christians begin a week commemorating the torture, suffering and execution of Jesus, prominent Catholic and evangelical leaders are urging public officials to end the use of capital punishment.

“All who reverence the sanctity of human life, created in the image of God, must never remain silent when firing squads, lethal injections, electric chairs and other instruments of death are viewed as morally acceptable,” nearly 400 Catholic theologians, women religious, Christian evangelical leaders and faith-based social justice advocates write in a statement released today. “We urge governors, prosecutors, judges and anyone entrusted with power to do all that they can to end a practice that diminishes our humanity and contributes to a culture of violence and retribution without restoration.”

Signatories on the statement include two former presidents of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; several presidents of Catholic universities; Miguel Diaz, a former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See; Sister Helen Prejean, a prominent anti-death penalty activist; Sister Simone Campbell of NETWORK: A Catholic Social Justice Lobby; Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners; Shane Claiborne, Red Letter Christians/The Simple Way; David Gushee, a leading evangelical ethicist at Mercer University; Rev. Gabriel Salguero, President of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition; Lynne Hybels, evangelical author and activist; and Dr. Bill Coates, senior pastor of First Baptist Gainesville, the church attended by Georgia Governor Nathan Deal.

The Holy Week push comes at a time when a diverse set of religious leaders are speaking out against the death penalty and several high-profile cases have drawn national attention. Pope Francis has raised the issue of capital punishment several times in recent days, calling the practice “cruel, inhumane and degrading.” In liturgical reflections to be used by the pope during this week’s Good Friday meditations at the Colosseum in Rome – an annual Way of the Cross service that focuses on Christ’s torture and crucifixion – the Pope will read: “When will the death penalty, still practiced in many states, be abolished?”

Last Friday, the National Latino Evangelical Coalition became the first national association of evangelical congregations to issue a call for repealing the death penalty. The coalition is urging its 3,000-member congregations to support efforts to end capital punishment in states across the country. In a March 17 statement, the Catholic bishops of Nebraska urged support for “legislative efforts to repeal the death penalty and reform our criminal justice system.” Last month, four leading Catholic publications respected in both liberal and conservative circles – the National Catholic Reporter, the National Catholic RegisterOur Sunday Visitor and America magazine – issued a joint editorial calling for an end to the death penalty. More than 430 religious leaders, including Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, sent a Feb. 11 letter to Kansas legislators calling for an end to capital punishment.

The governor of Utah recently signed a bill that brings back firing squads as an option for executions. In Georgia, hundreds of clergy and other faith leaders have asked the state to commute the death sentence of Kelly Gissendaner, a Christian and student of theology. On March 17, Missouri executed a man who was missing twenty percent of the frontal lobe of his brain. Last spring, the botched execution of an Oklahoma inmate drew scrutiny of lethal injection procedures. In April, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case that will decide the constitutionality of lethal injection protocols in Oklahoma.

The full text of the letter is included below, and the list of signatories can be found here.

As Christians preparing for the holy days of Christ’s suffering and death on the cross, we speak out with renewed urgency against the death penalty. Torture and execution is always a profound evil, made even more abhorrent when sanctioned by the government in the name of justice when other means of protecting society are available. All who reverence the sanctity of human life, created in the image of God, must never remain silent when firing squads, lethal injections, electric chairs and other instruments of death are viewed as morally acceptable.

We urge governors, prosecutors, judges and anyone entrusted with power to do all that they can to end a practice that diminishes our humanity and contributes to a culture of violence and retribution without restoration. We especially ask public officials who are Christian to join us in the solidarity of prayer this week as we meditate on the wounds of injustice that sicken our society. In many ways, capital punishment is the rotten fruit of a culture that is sown with the seeds of poverty, inequality, racism and indifference to life. We silence our hearts in prayer for those killed and families who mourn their loss. We can never know your pain and anger. Let us work together for healing, restorative justice and a system that punishes criminals without bringing more darkness and death into our world. As Pope Francis has reminded us, capital punishment is “cruel, inhumane and degrading” and “does not bring justice to the victims, but only foments revenge.”

It remains a shameful reality that the United States is one of the few developed nations in the world that still executes its citizens. Last week, the governor of Utah signed a bill that will bring back firing squads. Missouri recently executed a prisoner with severe brain damage. In Georgia, hundreds of clergy and other faith leaders have asked the state to commute the death sentence of Kelly Gissendaner — a Christian and student of theology — to life without parole. Several botched executions in recent years have pulled back the veil on this inhumane and ineffective practice. We are heartened by polling that shows Americans are increasingly opposed to the death penalty. Now is a critical time. The U.S. Supreme Court recently announced it would take up an appeal by a Florida death-row inmate challenging the state’s capital sentencing procedure, which permits inmates to be executed even when the jury is not unanimous. In April, The U.S Supreme Court will hear a case that will decide the constitutionality of lethal injection protocols in Oklahoma.

In this sacred season of suffering, death and new life, we pray that our simple Christian witness is received with open hearts. 


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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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