By the SOJOURN board
As the board of directors of SOJOURN: Southern Jewish Resource Network for Gender and Sexual Diversity, an organization based in Jewish and universal values, we are incredibly sensitive to the idea of religious freedom and are strong supporters of it. However, House Bill 757 and the other religious exemption bills are directly against the teachings of Judaism and the Torah.
In Pirkei Avot 2:10 we are taught that Rabbi Eliezer said, “Let your neighbor’s dignity be precious to you as your own.”
Hillel’s famous teaching from the Talmud (Shabbat 31a) is as clear as can be: You should care as much about your neighbor as you do yourself. Unfortunately, that teaching was blatantly ignored by the Georgia legislature on March 16 when it chose to codify discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Georgians — masquerading as religious practice — in H.B. 757, now known as the Free Exercise Protection Act.
If Gov. Nathan Deal signs the bill and H.B. 757 becomes law, people will be able to turn their religious beliefs into weapons against LGBT people, same-sex families, and virtually any other individual or group. Even before they have been finalized, these proposals are already having a detrimental effect on our friends and families.
Leviticus 19:13 prohibits us from oppressing our neighbor. Verse 14 of the same chapter prohibits us from placing a stumbling block in front of the blind: We’re prohibited from making someone’s life even harder than it already is. That same verse prohibits us from being unrighteous in judgment, and Verse 17 prohibits us from taking vengeance.
The principle of dinah d’malchuta dinah, originally found in the Talmud, is an Aramaic phrase that translates to “The law of the land is the law.” That means that a civil law is enforceable law, and unless that law requires Jews to violate one of the central commandments, we are required to follow it.
Allowing others to pursue their own happiness — especially when it does not affect us nor our own freedom in any way — is not only allowed by Judaism, but required. There is no law saying Jews can’t photograph a wedding they may not agree with, nor a law that says taxpayer-funded services can be denied to someone the provider doesn’t approve of. Those types of decisions have no basis in Jewish law. We understand that a job is just a job, that providing a service for a paying customer is not the same thing as endorsing the customer, and that taxpayer funds must support all citizens equally, even when we disagree.
Make no mistake, these bills are nothing more than attempts at righteous vengeance and retaliation for last year’s Supreme Court decision legalizing marriage equality nationwide. The sponsors of these bills have explicitly said so.
They’ve made it very clear that they do not believe that our families should have equal rights and legal protections, and they will do anything in their power to erode those few that are available to same-sex couples and LGBT families around the country. They want to impose their versions of thought, belief and religion onto us, and they want to do so with a legal blessing, even though a majority of Americans support nondiscrimination laws protecting LGBTQ people.
Please help us in stopping them. The Jewish community has not asked for and does not want these bills to become law. As a religious minority, we understand the danger of legislating morality. We understand that our beliefs belong to us and to us alone, and they are not to be used as weapons against anyone for any reason, even when we disagree.
Visit georgiaunites.org to get involved in the fight against discrimination in Georgia. Make your voice heard!
The SOJOURN board consists of Leanne Rubenstein, Charlie Chasen, Susan Kupferberg, Marjorie Blum, Abbie Fuksman, Beverly Korfin, Mark Spieler and Rabbi Joshua Lesser.