By Michael Jacobs / firstname.lastname@example.org
The apparent death for 2015 of Senate Bill 129, Georgia’s religious liberty legislation, should relieve and satisfy the Atlanta Jewish community, but instead it brought a reminder of how nasty politics can be.
(Nothing is fully dead until the legislative session ends; we went to press before the adjournment.)
From the Anti-Defamation League to SOJOURN to a range of rabbis — not limited to Reconstructionist Josh Lesser, Reform Fred Greene and Loren Lapidus, Conservative Joshua Heller and Michael Bernstein, and Orthodox Adam Starr — leaders in our community who have studied and contemplated S.B. 129 and whose opinions deserve respect have declared their opposition. They are the people who would lead the charge for the protection of religious liberty if it were in peril in Georgia.
Meanwhile, I haven’t heard bill proponents offer any problem within Georgia that would be solved through legislation to protect the exercise of religious rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, the Georgia Constitution and the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. S.B. 129 is either bad or unnecessary, and it’s bad to enact unnecessary legislation.
The suspicion that this legislation would be used to defend discrimination as an exercise of faith — gay and transgender people being the most obvious targets, but Jews, Muslims and other religious minorities also being at risk — makes its failure so close to Passover more meaningful. No holiday better highlights the inherent danger of being the Other, the outsider, and our responsibility to embrace those who are different. We were strangers in a strange land, and the Egyptians suffered horribly for mistreating us.
As Hillel famously said, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah.”
I therefore acknowledge cheering that a member of our community, Rep. Mike Jacobs (no relation), R-Brookhaven, stepped up during a meeting of the House Judiciary Committee on March 26 with an amendment that is brilliant in its simplicity.
The amendment states that the legislation couldn’t be used to justify any discrimination banned by federal, state or local law. An anti-discrimination clause shouldn’t be a problem in legislation that supposedly is needed to protect the rights of religious people.
All you need to know about the bill is that the Jacobs amendment outraged S.B. 129 proponents and that they rushed to table the legislation after the amendment passed 9-8.
That should have been the end of the story: A flawed, unnecessary bill dies, with the burden on proponents to craft something better and justify its passage in the future. That’s representative democracy in action.
Instead, WSB radio host Erick Erickson chose to enflame the situation.
In a rant about “Christians being stabbed in the back” March 27 on his Red State website, Erickson played the trump card of anti-Semitism against Jacobs, a rare Jew in the state House: the betrayal of Jesus. Erickson compared three other Republicans on the Judiciary Committee to Judas, then attacked Jacobs as “the man who wants to deny protection to Christian businesses” and thus betrayed “people of faith,” a phrase that apparently applies only to Christians.
Just for good measure, Erickson used “Mike Jacobs” six times, began and ended with mentions of “Judas betraying our Lord,” and made sure to blame unspecified “monied special interests.”
Interestingly, he called for his readers to email and call the three other lawmakers and to call Gov. Nathan Deal to demand that he not make Jacobs a state judge. But apparently Jacobs, a Republican like the others, a lawyer, a vote on the committee, isn’t worth lobbying or complaining to, only complaining about.
What makes Jacobs different from the others? Maybe it’s just that he used to be a Democrat and thus is irredeemable in Erickson’s eyes. Maybe.
I am not accusing Erickson of anti-Semitism; I have no idea what is in his heart. But he is a smart, experienced political operative, and I have to believe he knew exactly what he was doing when mixed Jacobs with anti-Semitic tropes in a state that still rarely elects Jews beyond local office.
The only positive of the rant is that if Deal is considering Jacobs for the judiciary, the appointment is assured now. The governor would never let Erickson take credit for changing his mind.