CLICK HERE to read the original op-ed on AJC.
By Jaha Howard
If you’ve been following the action in the Gold Dome around a variety of so-called “religious freedom” bills, you could be forgiven for assuming our state motto is anything but Wisdom, Justice and Moderation.
All three virtues are in short supply in today’s political discourse, and it’s shameful that our lawmakers spend so much time and energy on provisions so far removed from Georgia’s own aspirations – not to mention the basic tenets of the Christian faith.
I myself am a proud Christian who seeks to please and honor God. My faith guides every area of my life. It sets the standard that I strive for as a husband, a father, a business owner and a deacon in my church.
I personally believe that marriage is a divine institution designed for a committed union between a man and a woman. But not all Georgians agree with me, and I respect that. I’m not going to impose my religious beliefs on others by legislating morality.
I’ve looked closely at the so-called First Amendment Defense Act, and HB 757 flat-out discriminates against the LGBT community by empowering bigotry, division and exclusion. Whether you are a person of faith or not, you know that discrimination is wrong. That said, it deeply troubles me to hear many of the loudest voices in this debate cite religion as their prime motivator.
I’m not ashamed of my faith, and I believe the rush to pass the latest iteration of legislative intolerance is both ill-advised and stands in stark opposition to Christ’s teachings. Christ himself intentionally drew near to those most excluded by the Pharisees – the self-righteous community leaders of his day. People of faith are called to include rather than exclude; to speak out against discrimination.
I understand the concerns many conservative Christians have about possible infringement on their rights, along with the uncertainty many feel about our changing state. But those concerns are largely premised on exaggerations, distortions and outright lies about the need to protect rights that are already fully enshrined in the Constitution. Indeed, Georgia’s strength grows because of our diversity.
I suspect millions of citizens feel the same way and have grown tired of the polarizing voices that shape our public discourse. I believe the Georgia we should want to be is made up of people of decency and faith, people who stay true to our values and work hard to make our state a welcoming place where businesses and people from all walks of life can thrive.
At my office, I hire staff and serve patients regardless of their background, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status. Our practice’s success stems in large part from our unwavering commitment to the God-given dignity of each individual. In short, we try to look at people the same way God sees them. It sickens me to think this bill could be used as a tool to justify diminishing someone’s dignity – and to do so using God’s name.
From a Fortune 500 CEO to your neighborhood baker, any business leader worth their salt will tell you that a firm commitment to diversity is actually good for business, whether in the workplace or as a matter of public policy. Frankly, Georgia’s lawmakers would be surprised at how positively people respond to being affirmed as equals, known as individuals, and celebrated as a diverse community.
It’s ironic that the self-proclaimed champions of the Constitution, by supporting the First Amendment Defense Act, are actually the perpetrators of a direct assault on the First Amendment itself. Religious freedom protections have been enshrined in the Bill of Rights for nearly 225 years. Moreover, HB 757 represents a clear violation of the 14thAmendment’s equal protection clause, whereby no state may “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
So it’s time to tell the truth about this bill and its shady legislative cousins – along with the broader movement to “restore religious freedom.”
Under the guise of protecting religious and constitutional freedom, HB 757 amounts to state-sponsored discrimination against the LGBT community. This bill is immoral, unnecessary, unconstitutional and just plain bad for business. It represents both a departure from our values and a likely departure of jobs and investment from Georgia’s economy. And that’s not just my opinion; that’s the position of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce and business leaders from all across the state.
It’s time to abandon this misguided effort and get back to doing the people’s business.SHARE THIS STORY