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Atlanta-area ministers decry immigration bill

Unitarian Universalist ministers call Georgia bill 'racist' and 'bad for business.'
By Michelle Bates Deakin
5.2.11

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The Rev. Anthony David, senior minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta

The Rev. Anthony David, senior minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta, wrote a letter condemning a Georgia immigration bill, which was cosigned by area UU ministers. (Chance Hunter)

A group of Atlanta-area Unitarian Universalist ministers has signed a strongly worded letter condemning a Georgia immigration bill as “racist,” “bad for business,” and reflecting “spiritual blight.”

The ministers urge Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal not to sign House Bill 87, which landed on his desk after being signed by both houses of the legislature. The bill resembles the controversial Arizona immigration law S.B. 1070, which passed last year. The Georgia bill would create new requirements for employers to verify the legal status of potential employees, and it would authorize police to question suspects about their immigration status.

Ten UU ministers in metro Atlanta, representing six area congregations, signed the strongly worded letter, written by the Rev. Anthony David, senior minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta. A shortened version of the three-paragraph letter appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on April 27.

“The idea for the letter bubbled up when I was at a protest at the Georgia state house,” said David. He attended that late-February protest after the Georgia House of Representatives first passed H.B. 87, along with the Rev. Marti Keller, minister at the UU Congregation of Atlanta, and five parishioners. One of those parishioners, State Senator Nan Orrock, voted against the legislation, saying it “insists on demonizing people with brown skin and Spanish accents.”

Immigration rights have been a core social justice issue for the Atlanta congregation this year. “We’re trying to bring the congregation together around this vital issue,” said David. “Fundamentally, spiritually, there is hatred and fear behind what is going on in Georgia.”

He emphasized those themes in his letter. The statement reads:

What’s good for Georgia is that we base our social policies on traditional spiritual values of compassion and hospitality. But House Bill 87, a punitive immigration measure recently passed by the Georgia Assembly and sent to Governor Nathan Deal’s desk, telegraphs the scarcity message that there’s not enough love and not enough resources to go around. If a bill like this becomes law, we are diminished as a state.

I just don’t believe that there’s not enough to go around. Jesus taught us that when people are in need, you make room for them at the table, and there will always be enough of what is most important. You don’t buy into a scarcity mentality. All people have inherent worth and dignity. We need to make room for people coming to America with hopes of creating a better life for themselves, and if we can find ways of supporting them, the result can only add to our prosperity as a nation. It made America great in our past, and it can make us great again.

There are a tremendous number of problems with House Bill 87. It is racist. It is neither workable nor fair. It is bad for business. It reflects Georgia politicians acting far beyond the bounds of their proper jurisdiction. Its twin bill in Arizona has cost that state millions of dollars in litigation, and its unconstitutionality has recently been upheld. But even more problematic than all these is the fundamental spiritual blight that House Bill 87 reflects. It is hate-filled and fear-filled. I urge Governor Deal not to sign this bill into law. We need to make room at the table. There’s always enough of what’s truly important to go around if we’re resolved to make it so. What would Jesus do?

In addition to David and Keller, the letter is signed by ministers from congregations in Marietta, Sandy Springs, Roswell, Athens, and Atlanta. David also plans to send the letter to congregations south of Atlanta, which are part of the UUA’s Thomas Jefferson District, for signatures by their ministers. (The Atlanta churches are in the UUA’s Mid-South District.)

In addition to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the letter has appeared in several Atlanta-area weekly papers, the Athens Banner-Herald, and on blogs. David said the letter is being translated into Spanish and sent to Spanish-language newspapers. “One of my congregants, Tim Atkins, is doing a fantastic job getting the word out,” said David.

His hope is that the letter spurs people to reflect on immigration issues. Georgia politics are influenced heavily by the overwhelmingly Christian population in the state, David said. “I hope the letter spurs people on to reflection as to how their Christian faith is consistent with their attitudes on immigration.”

The UU Congregation of Atlanta has offered a series of adult religious education classes examining immigration policy. Its aim is to create a process for members to learn, reflect, and take action. In March, the congregation held an “All Congregation Immigration Summit.” In it, members shared their own family histories of immigration and migration, and explored how their UU values inform their stance on immigration reform. And the congregation continues to ask the question, “What can we as a faith community do?”

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