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Must-reads on Georgia’s Religious Discrimination Bill

February 12, 2015, 1:55 pm | Posted by

The ongoing debate in the Georgia state capitol about bills labeled “religious freedom” legislation has been moving fast and marred by misleading arguments. Contrary to claims made by supporters, the bills in question — H.B. 218 and H.B. 29 — are unnecessary, divisive and dangerous. Here’s some coverage of the debate and analysis of the legislation that cuts to the heart of the matter.

Legal scholars against the Teasley bill
A letter from 18 distinguished legal scholars to Governor Deal and the Leadership of the Georgia Legislature detailing objections and concerns regarding the “Preventing Government Overreach on Religious Expression Act.”

Religious liberty law needed? Unintened consequences skew freedom
By Peter Berg and David Key Sr., Atlanta Journal-Constitution
An op-ed by faith leaders explaining that their commitment to religious freedom informs their opposition to this legislation.

Religious Freedom Proposal in Georgia Draws Baptists into Debate
By Don Byrd, Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty
The BJC, the church’s foremost authority on religious freedom, raises questions about the legislation and notes that the organization officially opposed a similar bill in Georgia last year.

Religious freedom bill misnamed and unnecessary
By K. David Cooke, Jr., The Macon Telegraph
Cooke, the district attorney for the Macon judicial circuit and a member of the Baptist Committee for Religious Liberty’s board of directors, explains some incredibly dangerous potential consequences of passing this legislation.

Atlanta fire chief fired after calling gays ‘vile’ claims religious bias
By Jenny Jarvie, Los Angeles Times
Supporters point to the firing of Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran as proof that the legislation is necessary. This story shows that Cochran was fired for violating workplace policy, defying orders from the mayor, exposing the city to lawsuits, and creating a hostile work environment — not because of his religion.

 

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After Ferguson

August 29, 2014, 4:45 pm | Posted by

“True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.

The tear gas has cleared from the streets of Ferguson, the National Guard has withdrawn, and Michael Brown has been laid to rest. But building true peace will take a long time.

Faith leaders began this process during the protests. Members of Clergy United, a 200-person St. Louis-area interfaith coalition, helped keep demonstrations nonviolent, counseled many outraged young residents, and provided a channel of communication between law enforcement and protesters.

Leaders from the PICO National Network, the Christian Community Development Association, Sojourners and numerous other groups went to Ferguson and helped the community channel heartbreak into constructive action. FPL organized an open letter from more than 300 faith leaders to the town’s police, mayor and citizens. The National African-American Clergy Network coalition released a powerful statement and set up a fund for Brown’s family.

It will take sustained effort and substantive change to achieve true peace. Independent, transparent investigations of both Brown’s killing and Ferguson law enforcement practices are necessary. Residents must become politically empowered to ensure real reform. Congregations must continue to organize disenfranchised residents and heal the wounds of racism. All of that will take a lot of work, but the leadership the faith community has already shown gives me hope.

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Mass mobilizing against mass incarceration

April 3, 2014, 3:03 pm | Posted by

In a nation that keeps 2.2 million people behind bars — the majority for nonviolent drug offenses — the moral urgency of criminal justice reform is crystal clear.

And even though the scale of the problem is daunting, faith leaders are powering a movement that can overturn this deep institutional injustice.

Consider Louisiana, the state with America’s highest incarceration rate.

On Monday, diverse clergy leaders peacefully rallied at the state capitol to call legislation that ends unnecessary employment discrimination against ex-offenders, as well as sentencing reforms for nonviolent drug crimes.

This agenda is no pipe dream. Next door in deeply conservative Mississippi, Governor Phil Bryant just signed a new law that eases mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenses and gives judges more sentencing options besides prison, earning praise from across the ideological spectrum. This is an issue that transcends left and right.

Mass incarceration not only wastes billions of tax dollars, but also divides families and needlessly undermines the God-given potential of millions of human beings. And it’s disproportionately devastating in African-American and Latino communities.

It is all too often a “justice system” in name only. As people of faith, we must right this wrong. Together, this is one mountain we can move.

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More than a march

February 12, 2014, 1:49 pm | Posted by

Saturday’s Moral March to the North Carolina state capitol was a watershed moment in the faith community’s long movement to build a more perfect union in the face of injustice. More than 80,000 people cheered in joy as Rev. William Barber II invoked the Gospel and the prophets in a message far more bold and profound than any stump speech you’ll ever hear. This was no political rally, it was a faithful call to higher ground.

In an era of political paralysis, it takes a deep moral critique such as this to change the terms of debate in the halls of power and in the media.

For example, until very recently politicians could dismiss the discussion of economic inequality – one of the defining issues of our time — as class warfare. Now, thanks in part to the witness of faith leaders like Rev. Barber, the Nuns on the Bus, and most recently Pope Francis, it’s a debate that cannot be silenced.

Instead of stale arguments about the size of government and overwrought rhetoric about austerity, political leaders must now confront a much more important issue: the soulless way our economy excludes families while showering an elite few with near boundless wealth.

The conviction that a moral economy must strengthen families and allow all people to live with dignity has taken hold, and it will only grow stronger as we continue to preach and march.

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Attacks on Moral March miss their mark

February 12, 2014, 11:29 am | Posted by

This op-ed by Faith in Public Life CEO Jennifer Butler originally appeared at NC Policy Watch’s blog, The Progressive Pulse. 

The recent criticisms leveled by newspaper columnist J. Peder Zane and others against Rev. William Barber II for using religious and moral language to inspire political change displayed a disregard for history and even contempt for the role of faith in public life.

As we commemorate the 54th anniversary of the Greensboro sit-in that sought to end legal segregation, let’s never forget that the Civil Rights movement was a religiously inspired, prophetic movement led by pastors and diverse people of faith. The late Franklin McCain, one of the Greensboro Four, said the question that inspired him and three other students at the Agricultural and Technical College (AT&T) of North Carolina in Greensboro was this: “At what point does a moral man act against injustice?”

Religious leaders have been central to movements that drive political change. The struggle to end the evil of slavery, create fair labor practices and secure equal rights for all citizens were profound moral causes. We are stronger as a country because determined people of faith challenged political and social threats to human dignity. The unfinished task of living up to the ideals of our democracy and stirring the conscience of Americans continues today.

Rev Barber is raising important and often uncomfortable questions about educational disparities, voting rights and economic injustice that impact not only North Carolinians, but the entire nation. Here are some telling signs of the times. CEOs often earn as much in a single day as their workers make in an entire year. Minimum wage jobs don’t pay enough to keep many hardworking Americas out of poverty. Half of all workers are not allowed to take a sick day without being docked pay or potentially losing their job. Congress is slashing food nutrition programs for struggling families even as corporations are coddled with tax breaks. These are moral scandals. Faith leaders will continue to speak truth to power.

The separation of church and state is meant to protect both religion and democracy. Because our government does not enforce an official religion, America has a diverse religious marketplace. Speaking from deeply held beliefs about the issues that affect us all is a healthy sign of pluralism and strength, not confining moralism. Those who argue that religious leaders should be silent in public debates have not only failed to learn the lessons of the past, they deprive us of powerful voices that can help forge a more just future.

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