Why Jews Aren't Supporting GA's So-Called "Religious Liberty" Bill

[Updated Sunday, March 29]

The fight to pass Georgia Senator Josh McKoon's (R-Columbus) misnamed "religious liberty" bill (SB129) is intensifying every day. Senator McKoon, and his compatriot in the State House, Representative Sam Teasley (R-Marietta), have been ramping up their game in trying to explain why they believe Georgians need a state-protected right to discriminate. One of their loudest arguments is that SB129 protects people of all faiths (it doesn't). What it does is protect those who are the majority, and that's really important to note.

McKoon and Teasley have both said on numerous occasions that this bill would be beneficial to Jews, too. I responded to them here to explain that, while one small aspect of Judaic observance would be made easier, Jews are smarter than that - we know when we're being used to try and add multi-faith legitimacy to a bad idea. 

Still, McKoon and Teasley remain in the dark as to why Jews aren't turning out in large numbers to support their discriminatory bill. (In fact, I haven't heard any Jewish leaders speaking for the bill - only against the bill, and that includes Orthodox rabbis.)

Here are my theories as to why Jews aren't supporting Georgia's Right to Discriminate:

Dinah d'malchuta dinah / דינא דמלכותא דינא

This Jewish principle, 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, it is required. There is no law saying that Jews can't photograph a wedding they may not agree with, nor provide a service for someone they don't approve of. Those types of decisions are have no basis in Jewish law. We understand that a job is just a job, and that providing a service for a paying customer is not the same thing as endorsing the customer - it's simply providing a service in exchange for payment, not a religious act.

And you shall not mistreat or oppress the stranger, because you were strangers in Egypt

וגר לא תונה, ולא תלחצנו: כי גרים הייתם במצרים

(Exodus 22:20)

Jews know what it's like to be the minority. For the past 2,000 years, in nearly every place in the world, we were (and still are) the minority. It wasn't until just over 60 years ago that we had a place to go where we weren't a minority. And with that in mind, we know the dangers of allowing the majority's beliefs to overpower the minority's. That's exactly what SB129 will do. It will allow the religious beliefs of the person or business in power to trump those of someone in the minority's, and it will ensure that the government can't do anything about it. SB129 is simply an attempt to ensure that Georgia's Christian majority remains in power, even as its numbers shrink. 

Jews also have a personal knowledge of what it's like to be discriminated against. Our people's history is rife with tales of discrimination sponsored by the church, by the state, and by individuals. Naturally, we're very wary of any law that will further state-sanctioned discrimination. SB129 would allow both individuals - and private corporations - to legally discriminate. 

 Invoking "Judeo-Christian Tradition" is An Attempt To Coerce Jewish Support for Non-Jewish Policy

I'm always wary when I hear a Christian Fundamentalist use the phrase "Judeo-Christian Tradition." More often than not, it's used in the context of an extremist pastor trying to garner support in the Jewish community for a controversial idea by simply saying "Jews think this too!" The problem is, Jews usually don't. For example, Orthodox Christianity is very clear on its position on abortion. Judaism (of all variations) is not. Judaism does not expressly forbid abortion nor does it endorse it - our tradition understands that each situation is unique. Our tradition also values the life of a potential mother over that of a potential child, which is in opposition to Christian theology.

There are plenty of other examples of how Judaic and Christian theology are in opposition - some more obvious than others, of course.  One thing you'll notice, though, is that it's extremely rare to hear someone say "the Judeo-Christian Tradition says..." unless they're specifically trying to coerce a community to join in on a controversial measure - as McKoon and Teasley are doing.

Simply put, it is not Jewish to support the enactment of a law that would endorse discrimination based on religious beliefs. We know that we - and all people - are at our best when we can acknowledge our differences and discuss our discomforts with people who are different from us instead of using the strong arm of the law to keep them far, far away from us.  

Last week, Representative Mike Jacobs (R-Brookhaven) introduced a non-discrimination amendment to SB129, ensuring that it could not be use to discriminate, based on existing local, state, and federal non-discrimination guidelines. Once it passed (supported by 3 Republicans, in fact), the far-right contingent of the House Judiciary Committee withdrew their support because that amendment would, in their words, "gut the bill" and negate its very purpose. 

Supporters of SB129 have made it explicitly clear that the purpose of the bill is to ensure discrimination in the name of religion. Simply put, that is not Jewish and it is not something the Jewish community can endorse. That's why Georgia's Jews aren't supporting the so-called "religious liberty" bill. It's not about liberty, it's about discrimination.

Get involved in the fight against the so-called "religious liberty" bill: contact your Georgia House Representative NOW and get your friends and family to join you. 


Robbie Medwed

Robbie Medwed began working with SOJOURN when it was known as The Rainbow Center as a volunteer in 2008. He served as chair of the TRC Advisory Board and as co-chair of Purim off Ponce (2010, 2011) before moving into his current role as Assistant Director, where he oversees SOJOURN's educational programming and outreach, including our award-winning workshops and training seminars. Robbie holds a master's degree in Jewish education from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and has written curricula and nationally-recognized inclusive programs for the Marcus JCC of Atlanta, BBYO, USY, Camp Ramah, the Jewish Teen Funders Network, Babaganewz, and JewishGPS. Robbie is also a certified personal trainer, group fitness instructor, and cyclist. Robbie can be reached at robbie@sojourngsd.org.