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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Clergy to Deliver Letter Signed by 500 Georgia Faith Leaders Calling for Gissendaner to be Spared

March 2, 2015, 8:47 am | Posted by

Atlanta, GA – Today at 10:30AM, a group of prominent clergy will hold a press conference before delivering a letter to Gov. Nathan Deal signed by more than 500 Georgia faith leaders calling for Kelly Gissendaner to be spared. Hundreds of clergy and people of faith from the across the country have also signed the letter. Gissendaner is scheduled to be executed tonight.

An online petition has also gathered nearly 50,000 signatures calling for the execution to be stopped.

Press conference and delivery of a letter signed by more than 500 Georgia clergy calling for Kelly Gissendaner to be spared.

Bishop Rob Wright, Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta
Deacon Richard Tolcher, Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Georgia State Capitol Rotunda
206 Washington St SW, Atlanta, GA 30334

Today – Monday, March 2nd at 10:30AM


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Clergy Lobby Legislators against “Religious Freedom” Bills

February 25, 2015, 2:39 pm | Posted by

Atlanta, GA  – A group of clergy from across the state gathered at the Georgia State Capitol Wednesday to call on their legislators to oppose a pair of “religious freedom” bills being proposed in the state legislature. After a morning of lobby visits, the group gathered to reiterate their moral and religious objections to the proposed legislation.

Rev. Pam Driesell, Senior Pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, said, “This bill is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It gives the appearance of being something good, when in reality, it’s something harmful. These bills perverts freedom into an opportunity to harm others, and they violate the most basic religious principle: not to use our freedom to harm, but to use our freedom to do good.”

Rabbi Joshua Lesser of Congregation Bet Haverim said, “I believe these bills weaponize religion. They erode the common good through discrimination. I thought Georgia had grown to be a more tolerant state, but this legislation proves we have not.”

Rev. David Key, Sr., Director of Baptist Studies at Candler School of Theology at Emory University, said, “As a Georgia Baptist, I believe strongly in religious freedom, but I do not support this legislation. RFRA is not about religious freedom, it’s about discrimination. Religious freedom doesn’t give any of us the right to harm others. This legislation is unnecessary, this legislation is harmful, and the state of Georgia doesn’t need it.”

The delegation that gathered at the State Capitol on Wednesday is a fraction of the more than 180 clergy from many denominations who signed a letter released at the beginning of the legislative session that urged legislators not to pass the “religious freedom” bills.

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

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Memphis People of Faith to Hold Town Hall, Prayer Vigil for Mass Incarceration Reform

February 12, 2015, 6:09 pm | Posted by

“Locked in Solidarity” to raise up voices of those impacted by unjust criminal justice system

Memphis, TN – Today, February 12th at 7:00PM people of faith and local advocates for criminal justice reform will gather  for an event titled “Locked in Solidarity,” a town hall conversation and prayer vigil.

Those personally impacted by mass incarceration will share their stories and experiences to help others better understand the issue and chart a path toward reforming this unjust system. As the issue of criminal justice reform gains national attention, members of Two by Two House of Prayer hope to build on the personal experiences of community members to better advocate for systemic change.

The event is one of more than twenty being held around the country tomorrow by the Christian Community Development Association.

WHAT: “Locked in Solidarity,” one of more than twenty town halls and prayer vigils on mass incarceration to be held around the country.

WHO: Memphis people of faith and advocates for mass incarceration reform

WHERE: Two by Two House of Prayer, 19 N. Century St., Memphis TN 38111

WHEN: Thursday, February 12th at 7:00PM

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Baptist Clergy Call on Legislators to Oppose Controversial “Religious Freedom” Bills

January 28, 2015, 1:30 pm | Posted by

Baptists from across Georgia speak out against divisive “religious freedom” legislation

Atlanta, GA  – A group of prominent Georgia Baptist clergy gathered at the State Capitol Wednesday to speak out against proposed legislation labeled “religious freedom” bills. Citing their faith, the group called on lawmakers to not pass the legislation. An opposing group from the Georgia Baptist Convention spoke at the Capitol in favor of the potentially discriminatory bills.

“Religious liberty is important to Baptists around the world and here in Georgia,” said Rev. Julie Pennington-Russellof First Baptist Church of Decatur. “But it doesn’t give us a right to discriminate. As a follower of Jesus Christ, I am called to treat every human being the way I would want to be treated.”

“I am for religious liberty and for religious freedom, but I am not for this bill,” said Rev. Timothy McDonald III of First Iconium Baptist Church. “I believe this bill will have unintended consequences. I worked on the federal RFRA [Religious Freedom Restoration Act] in 1993. But this is not 1993.”

“No one voice, no one denomination speaks for all people of faith,” said Rev. Dr. James Lamkin of Northside Drive Baptist Church. “Georgia’s citizens and elected officials need to decide if they want to move forward or take our state back in time. As a Georgia Baptist, I do not want discrimination to happen in my name. Everyone has a right to their religious beliefs, but nobody has the right to discriminate. This is Atlanta, the home of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We don’t teach hate here.”

The group is a fraction of the more than 160 clergy from many different denominations across Georgia who signed a letter released at the beginning of the legislative session that urged legislators not to pass these discriminatory, unnecessary “religious freedom” bills.

The press conference was part of an ongoing campaign by Georgia clergy to prevent passage of controversial “religious freedom” bills.


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