Editor’s Notebook: Legislature Plays the Victim Game

Editor’s Notebook: Legislature Plays the Victim Game

Michael Jacobs

Atlanta Jewish Times Editor Michael Jacobs is on his second stint leading the AJT's editorial operations. He previously served as managing editor from 2005 to 2008.

As of this writing, Georgia House Bill 757, combining the unnecessary Pastor Protection Act with the excessive First Amendment Defense Act, awaits action in the House amid threats from the business community and promises from Gov. Nathan Deal to change the legislation the Senate passed 38-14 on Friday, Feb. 19.

One of the risks of writing in a weekly newspaper about pending legislation is that everything could change before you read this, but I don’t want to delve into the problems with this bill and the whole drive for religious liberty legislation the past couple of years except to make one point: If our First Amendment rights, whether to free speech or to the free exercise of religion, were truly in danger, I have to believe that Rabbis Josh Heller, Michael Bernstein, Loren Lapidus and Pamela Gottfried, to name just a few examples, would be on the front lines to demand protection rather than protesting proposed protective measures.

Michael Jacobs
Michael Jacobs

After all, we who are in the religious minority need government protection of our religious rights more than anyone else.

Listening to Christians sincerely profess their fears of persecution and desire for equal protection under the law is beyond bizarre. What exactly are they afraid of?

Sen. Tommie Williams (R-Lyons) made the only attempt during the H.B. 757 debate in the Senate to offer a reason for the legislation. He said Christian pastors are afraid of being silenced because they believe that same-sex marriage violates the Bible, and such legislation presumably would calm them down so they could keep carrying on.

At the same time, Williams rejected as nonsense opponents’ fears of discrimination, even though the overwhelming Senate vote on the bill made a strong argument about who does and who doesn’t have to fear a loss of legal protection in Georgia.

It seemed at times during the Senate debate over H.B. 757 that bill supporters were making the case against themselves. For example, bill backers rejected worries that the legislation would legalize discrimination on faith-based grounds because federal laws already ban discrimination. But they didn’t accept that the First Amendment would provide protection against any theoretical, highly unlikely crackdown on people of faith.

Still, as twisted and illogical as the arguments may be, they’re sincere. There may be Georgia legislators who hate LGBT people or unwed mothers or Shabbat-observant Jews enough to risk national condemnation and financial losses, but not enough of them to pass this legislation. Something is driving the hell-or-high-water determination among normally business-friendly Republicans to enact this legislation over the opposition of companies big and small.

It could be fear of change. It could be a desire to claim a win — any win in any arena — in a confusing cultural and legal climate. It could be the unfamiliar inability to shout down if not silence opponents.

Or it could be jealousy.

In our reality-TV era, victimhood is in, regardless of whether it’s real. But it’s not easy for white, straight Protestants to be victims in Georgia. So they imagine they’re under attack in a society they’ve largely built for their benefit.

The Orthodox Jewish position remains against same-sex marriage, but you don’t see Orthodox rabbis demonstrating support for H.B. 757. They recognize real persecution, and it doesn’t look like this.

But just like the supposed war on Christmas, the nonexistent oppression of people who disagree with the Supreme Court’s definition of marriage provides the least victimized members of our society the chance to play the victim.