Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Our faith traditions call us to push for stronger civil rights protections

Posted on Tue, Jan 19, 2016 at 3:19 PM

By Rev. Dr. Lewis F. Galloway, Rabbi Brett Krichiver, Rev. Anne Rosebrock and Rabbis Dennis and Sandy Sasso

 We represent a group of 168 clergy and religious leaders from across Indiana who have come together to express our support for upholding religious freedom while protecting the civil rights for all citizens of our state. The religious liberty upon which our nation was founded has allowed our country’s diverse faith traditions to flourish. We cherish this religious freedom, which is guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, and believe it should be affirmed.

At the same time, we believe all people are created in the image of God and should be treated with dignity and respect. The Declaration of Independence guarantees that all citizens have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We believe Indiana code also needs to guarantee that all Hoosiers enjoy these rights. This is why lawmakers should update the state’s civil rights law to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

Such a change is not only the right thing to do morally, but it also upholds the key tenets of our faith. The practice of hospitality is at the heart of our diverse faith traditions. The Hebrew Scriptures, for example, emphasize the responsibility of people of faith to care for others. Abraham and Sarah practiced hospitality by welcoming strangers, sharing food and enjoying fellowship with them. Jesus practiced hospitality by welcoming all into his circle of friends, caring for outcasts and eating with those who were often rejected by society.

One of the most important witnesses we can make to our faith is to practice the grace of hospitality. We fail to do this when we reject and refuse service to those whose values and ideas may be different from our own.

As clergy and faith leaders, we do not agree on every issue. We have different understandings about marriage and other practices within our communities of faith. We respect these differences and believe we should equally respect the differences among all people as children of God. Refusing services to some of our citizens does not respect the diversity of faith and beliefs that makes our state and nation strong. The citizens of Indiana should not live in fear of losing their jobs, being denied housing, or being declined service and public accommodation because of who they are.

All of our faith traditions also emphasize justice and mercy. Our society is not just when our friends, family, neighbors and fellow citizens are being treated as less because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Our society is merciful when we seek to understand the point of view of those who may differ from us on important social concerns or whose life experiences may be different from our own. When any one of us is denied full protection as a human being, no human being is safe.

Updating our civil rights law to include sexual orientation and gender identity transcends the issue of same-gender marriage. It should become a rallying cry for people of faith who believe that all Hoosiers should be treated with respect and dignity. In the upcoming session of the Indiana General Assembly, we have an opportunity to address centuries of discrimination against gay and transgender people. We urge you to stand with us in urging lawmakers to seize this opportunity to make clear that our state welcomes and protects everyone.

Dr. Lewis F. Galloway is senior pastor at Second Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis. Brett Krichiver is senior rabbi at Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation. Anne Rosebrock is senior pastor at Meridian Street United Methodist Church in Indianapolis. Dennis and Sandy Sasso are rabbis at Congregation Beth-El Zedeck in Indianapolis.

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