On Tuesday, March 18, around 200 opponents of the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act, legislation proposed that could allow religion to allow individuals and businesses to use religion as an excuse to discriminate against gay and transgender Georgians, gathered at Liberty Plaza near the state Capitol for a rally.
Faith leaders and business owners spoke at the rally, but the most surprising speaker was Rabbi Joshua Heller of Congregation B’nai Torah in Sandy Springs, who leads one of the largest and most conservative synagogues in Georgia. Rabbi Heller could be one of the most compelling faith leaders yet to oppose the bill. His words, thoughtful and transcendent, speak volumes about the separation of faith and business, and why gay and transgender Georgians deserve to be protected under the law. His words are as follows:
I have chosen to come and stand before and with you today, because I see a wrong being contemplated. I see a wrong being contemplated in the name of God, in the name of people of faith, and I cannot be silent and let that wrong come to pass. Not in my name, not in our name, and not in God’s name.
I stand here today, knowing that there are voices in our Jewish tradition and our community that debate, sometimes stridently, questions of gender and sexuality, questions that begin in Leviticus – and I’ve read those passages of Leviticus. But I have also read Leviticus 19:18, that says, ‘V’ahavta l’reacha camocha’ – ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ And I’ve read Leviticus 25:17: ‘Lo tonu ish et amito’ – ‘Do not oppress your neighbor.’
And I can be no less serious about those verses than any other in the Scripture that I hold dear.
And so when I see someone citing Judaism, citing the holy Torah, to exclude people from our larger society, to impede human beings trying to live in dignity, I must say: Not in my name, not in our name, not in God’s name.
People of faith may, and indeed, must decide how to observe in their homes, even who to include and exclude in their own houses of worship, in their own places of religious study. But in a society where faith is the litmus test to decide who may live among us as neighbors, who may work at or patronize our places of business, then we are all at risk. Not just gays and lesbians, but Jews and Christians alike.
And I say no—not in my name, not in our name, not in God’s name.
As Jews, we do not have the hubris to impose our faith traditions on a larger society—a quilt of so many colors and beliefs and understandings. We do not ask those with whom we come into contact [to] conform to structures of Jewish law. I have never demanded that the Bulldogs in Athens not handle a pigskin on the Sabbath.”
To the contrary, though, there is a principle of dina d’malchuta dina– that the law of the land must be respected when it protects justly. And the law of the land in our state must protect all—Jew and Gentile, gay and straight alike.
And so, I speak now to those who are not here—people who are people of faith. People who believe deeply in the power of the Bible, I ask you to contemplate: Will you choose one set of verses over another?
And I say—I ask, that the people of faith and conscience reject this law, which would provide cover for hatred and discrimination, under a false flag of faith. People who are committed to their faith traditions should oppose this bill, not despite their faith, but because of it. And they should say: Not in my name, not in our name, not in God’s name.
Opposing words from such a distinguished faith leader could have a strong impact on building opposition to RFRA. Rabbi Heller’s words reflect the strong faith tradition of the Golden Rule—that we should do unto others as we would have them do unto us.