Opinion: Our ‘religious freedom’ means freedom from discrimination too

Inside the Gold Dome: The intricate ways the Georgia landmark was built in the 1880s

Credit: Curtis Compton/AJC

Credit: Curtis Compton/AJC

Inside the Gold Dome: The intricate ways the Georgia landmark was built in the 1880s

We feel like we’re in the movie “Groundhog Day”. Every legislative session for the last nine years, we have gathered together as multi-faith community leaders to speak out against bills dubbed “Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRA).” Former Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed a previous version. In 2023, we are facing a new version in Senate Bill 180.

What we know as faith leaders, is that religious freedom is already protected under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment. As trusted leaders of our respective faiths and communities we see these bills for what they are – a license for a minority of religious people to discriminate against LGBTQ people in violation of federal law.

Our respective faith traditions are about love. They are about treating others as you want to be treated and protecting the rights of people who are in harm’s way. We believe in religious freedom. But that right should not and cannot infringe on the rights of others to exist freely, without fear of harm or discrimination in our society. We see SB 180 for what it is, part of a coordinated campaign to strip LGBTQ people, people like us, of our right to be treated as equals in our society, not second-class citizens.

We know RFRA is part of a slew of bills pushed by coordinated and documented anti-LGBTQ groups in legislatures across the country. Transgender youth are the latest targets in their culture war. This year we’ve already heard some Georgia senators’ version of a “Don’t Say Gay” bill. We’re experiencing attacks on libraries and reading materials and attacks on gender-affirming care for transgender youth.

We hear the strong opposition from transgender youth and advocates who are pleading with us to listen to them — to affirm their existence and support what they need. We are hearing from parents of trans youth that gender-affirming care is quite literally life-saving care. The sponsors of these bills, both “religious freedom” and anti-transgender youth bills, claim that they are “protecting” people. But they are directly enabling harm. They are enabling discrimination. They are enabling hate.

We don’t have room for hate in Georgia. As faith leaders, we stand firm in Georgia’s civil rights legacy and carry it forward to protect equal dignity and respect for all human beings, because that is what our faith demands of us. We don’t need legislation that enables hate and discrimination.

What we need is comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation. That is the vision Georgians deserve. That is the faith vision. That is the moral vision of the diversity that we represent. As the Honorable late Congressman John Lewis said, “we are one people from one house, one state, one love.” It is time for the senators carrying this harmful legislation to act like it.

Rev. Kim Jackson is vicar of The Episcopal Church of the Common Ground and a Georgia State Senator representing District 41.

Rev. Dr. Josh Noblitt, St. Mark United Methodist Church.

Joshua Lesser is rabbi emeritus, Bet Haverim Synagogue.