The rabbi who opposed the ‘religious liberty’ bill

Perhaps 200 or so opponents of S.B. 129 gathered at Liberty Plaza near the state Capitol at noon Tuesday to rally against the surviving “religious liberty” bill in the Legislature.

The general purpose, not strictly observed, was to display backing from ordained leaders of metro Atlanta’s faith community -- to offset religious support on the other side.

Some of the verbage was inflammatory. From the Rev. Tim McDonald, senior pastor of the First Iconium Baptist Church:

“I am a person of faith. And I take my faith very seriously. And that’s why I cannot turn over my faith to people who in the past have thought it was all right to discriminate against African-Americans, people who in the past thought it was all right to support slavery in America, people who in the past thought it was all right to support Jim Crow and segregation-America. Some of those same people are the ones who are behind Senate Bill 129.”

Then there was David Bachman, 26, president and owner of Neck Candy Tie Co. and a Republican. Bachman worked on U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss’ final campaign, and for the 2008 McCain/Palin ticket. He is a former chairman of the Young Republicans at the University of West Georgia, and he is gay. Said Bachman:

“I will not let a small minority of vocal legislators hijack my state. This bill will open the door to discrimination and close the door to business. Young people support job growth, lower taxes, more personal responsibility, and individual freedom. And in my eyes, individual freedom means equal rights.”

But the power of a political event often lies in its ability to surprise. And Tuesday’s surprise was Rabbi Joshua Heller of Congregation B’nai Torah in Sandy Springs. Heller is not the first rabbi to oppose S.B. 129 -- far from it. But he leads one of the largest and most conservative synagogues in Georgia, and so may be the most important figure of faith, so far, to emerge among those opposed to the religious liberty bills.

Heller arrived late, and does not appear in the photo at the top of the post. But what he said was worth transcribing in its entirety. To wit:

[Much laughter, and a voice: “Go get ‘em, rabbi!”]

“To the contrary, though, there is a principle of dina d’malchuta dina – that the law of the land must be respected when it protects justly. And the law of the land in our state must protect all -- Jew and Gentile, gay and straight alike.

“And so, I speak now to those who are not here – people who are people of faith. People who believe deeply in the power of the Bible, I ask you to contemplate: Will you choose one set of verses over another?

“And I say – I ask, that the people of faith and conscience reject this law, which would provide cover for hatred and discrimination, under a false flag of faith. People who are committed to their faith traditions should oppose this bill, not despite their faith, but because of it. And they should say: Not in my name, not in our name, not in God’s name.”

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About the Author

Jim Galloway
Jim Galloway
Jim Galloway is a three-decade veteran of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution who writes the Political Insider blog and column.