WASHINGTON - In a historic showing of religious support for the passage of two major pieces of civil rights legislation, hundreds of clergy from a diverse reflection of America's faith backgrounds gathered on Capitol Hill today to lobby their respective members of Congress to end workplace discrimination against their fellow brothers and sisters and pass the much-needed hate crimes bill this year.
"For too long, there has been a false perception in American politics that faith and religion stand diametrically opposed to equality for GLBT Americans," said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese."The hundreds of clergy joining us are here because they understand that we are all God's children, and our differing sexual orientations and our differing gender identities are not shameful sins, but rather amazing gifts from God."
The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, called the Matthew Shepard Act in the Senate, adds sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and disability to existing federal law conferring authority on the federal government to investigate and prosecute violent crimes. This authority already exists for crimes committed because of the victim's race, color, religion and national origin and because they were attempting to exercise a federally protected right. The bill ensures a federal backstop to assist local law enforcement in those cases in which they request assistance or fail to adequately investigate or prosecute these serious crimes. The bill would also provide assistance to local law enforcement for investigating and prosecuting bias-motivated violent crimes.
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act would address discrimination in the workplace by making it illegal to fire, refuse to hire or refuse to promote an employee simply based on the person's sexual orientation or gender identity. It would reinforce the principle that employment decisions should be based on a person's qualifications and job performance.
Said Bishop Carlton Pearson, founder and senior pastor of the New Dimensions Worship Center (Tulsa, Okla.):
"Congress once again has the opportunity, indeed the imperative, to add women people with disabilities and members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community to the existing federal hate crimes law by passing the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. It is morally wrong to deprive anyone of the means to feed themselves and care for their families. Passage of this bill will help gay, lesbian and transgender people in 33 states where you can be fired for simply being gay."
Said Peggy Campolo, Evangelical Christian leader (Wayne, Pa.):
"For more than 20 years, I have been an advocate for my gay brothers and lesbian sisters, not in spite of my desire to follow Jesus Christ, but because of it, not in spite of what I read in the Bible, but because of it! Friends, there is no justice when men and women pay taxes, but are denied equal justice in the workplace,and equal protection under the law. I stand for justice today, in Jesus' name, beside my lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters."
Said Rabbi Denise Eger, Congregation Kol Ami (West Hollywood, Calif.):
"Jewish tradition teaches that we have an obligation to protect the rights of workers. There are many laws in our Torah that teach us of our obligations to be fair to workers. This legislation is about fairness and justice."
Said the Rev. Dr. Miguel De La Torre, Southern Baptist minister and professor of ethics and religion at Iliff School of Theology (Pueblo, Colo.):
"My Lord and Savior, through words and deeds, has taught me to stand with those who are oppressed. Because all are created in the image of God, the imago Dei, violence committed against any one person is violence committed against the very image of God. As a Latino, I know all too well the stings of discrimination in the workplace and for that reason I have no choice but to be here today advocating passage of the hate crimes bill and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act."
Said the Rev. William Sinkford, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association (Boston, Mass.):
"We are people of faith, and we also have a commitment to truth. Much of the rhetoric in opposition to these bills is blatantly and inexcusably false. So let me be clear: These laws would not create quotas or force churches to hire people who do not share their religious values. These laws will not criminalize free speech or impede religious expression in any way. These laws do not undermine a single constitutional right. In fact, the contrary is true."
Said the Rev. Dr. Erin Swenson, Presbyterian minister (Atlanta, Ga.):
"My faith tradition teaches that every single person is made in God's image and is worthy of dignity and respect. My denomination, the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., supports the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act as one way our community can ensure this dignity and respect for everyone. The sacred texts of my faith tradition teach clearly that God upholds the most vulnerable among us, and there are few more vulnerable than those in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community."
Said the Rev. Elder Nancy Wilson, moderator for the Metropolitan Community Church (Lakewood Ranch, Fla.):
"We see in our religious roots and teachings a call to justice, mercy and kindness, a call to a civil society of mutual respect, justice and dignity for all. We also come today to say that hate crimes legislation is not about limiting free speech, or about theoretical crimes but it is about real acts that terrorize, maim and kill real people in our communities."
Said the Rev. Susan Russell, senior associate for parish life at All Saints Episcopal Church (Pasadena, Calif.):
"My son Jaime is currently serving on active duty in Iraq. One of the core American values he was raised to embrace - and he understands himself to be defending - is our pledge to be a nation of 'liberty and justice for all.' I believe these important pieces of legislation will help move us as a nation toward that long-dreamed-of goal - that dream of liberty and justice my son and so many other brave Americans in harm's way have sworn to preserve and protect."
Said the Rev. Charles Bouchard, president of Aquinas Institute of Theology (St. Louis, Mo.):
"These two pieces of legislation do not create special rights. They do not endorse any lifestyle and they do not interfere with legitimate religious beliefs about moral behavior. They simply offer appropriate legal protection for persons who are victims of violence because of who they are and ensure that workers are judged on the basis of their job performance and not the basis of prejudice."
The Human Rights Campaign is America's largest civil rights organization working to achieve gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against GLBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.
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