The Georgia State Capitol as viewed from the James H. “Sloppy” Floyd Building. Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com

Opinion: Ga. Senate: Answer the cry for a hate crimes law

As members of the clergy, we share many things in common with each other and with the people we have the privilege of serving: the teachers, the softball coaches, the moms and dads, the grandparents, the brothers and sisters. In the end, we’re human. The only distinction is that we’ve made a formal lifetime commitment to advocating for harmonious co-existence. It’s the foundation upon which our entire body of work is built: to promote peace and love, and eradicate hate and intolerance from the hearts and souls of the people we serve. We try to start before it takes hold. We strive to recognize those at the greatest risk of falling into the grip of hate, and influence them to instead find compassion and to value every human life as God’s child regardless of creed, color, sexual orientation, religious denomination, or any other characteristic they perceive to be unlike themselves.

But we have to admit it’s getting increasingly harder to do this job because the tide is raging against us. For all our efforts and the progress we make, the follow-through is out of our hands. As clergy, our powers are limited to appealing to the goodness of humankind. We can’t legislate and we can’t enforce. There comes a point at which the good work we’ve done has to be carried forward outside our doors and into the community. It is there that our legislators must take over where we leave off. Right now, here in Georgia, they aren’t doing that.

Among the many agonizing consequences of this conscious deficiency, we must immediately recognize the long-term damage being done and the irreversible course on which we’re putting our children. For every single hate crime perpetrated without consequence, there is a family and there is a legacy. There is also the irrevocable impression on our precious youth that hate is okay, that it’s the norm. The negative impact on our society is immeasurable. Parents tell us they fear not only that their sons and daughters will be preyed upon, but that they will eventually be compelled to feel hate and to act on hate, because the message of hate and division is louder than the message of love and unity. Young people tell us they don’t want to bring children into this world, because hate has become so prevalent, so everyday, so accepted. It’s not because of what they learn at church or at school, it’s because of what our laws allow people to do to each other, despite what they learn at church and at school. How can we have any real lasting impact on the souls of our society if the laws continue to circumvent the values they should uphold?

The separation of church and state must remain unconditional. Our job is to implore everyone to value a safe and inclusive society for all. The state’s job is to ensure it. For all. But alas, like the blood of thy brother that has screamed from the soil through decades of hate-driven deaths left unanswered, the hate crimes bill is screaming from the desk of the Georgia Senate, and the silence in response is deafening. Safety remains a privilege for some, and a right denied to too many.

Until such a time that we can overpower the hate that inspires the crimes, we need the commitment of everyone and the action of those who can do something about it.

Living among the same intelligence that has advanced this society to globally celebrated heights, it’s bewildering that we’ve come no further in peaceful co-existence, especially as a thriving state in the country that touts itself the leader of the world.

Georgia, do better. The world is not only watching, it’s crying. This is about far more than religion, politics, church, or state. It’s about humanity, and it’s time to put humanity first.

Pass the hate crimes bill today.

Rabbi Peter S. Berg is Senior Rabbi at The Temple. Rev. Bill Britt is Senior Minister, Peachtree Road United Methodist Church. Rev. Kevin Murriel is Senior Pastor at Cascade United Methodist Church.

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