Raleigh, N.C. — The chorus to repeal a North Carolina law that prohibits discrimination protections from being extended to gay and transgender people is growing among religious leaders across the state.
Forty-five rabbis signed a letter expressing "deep dismay" with House Bill 2, and all eight bishops of the United Methodist Church in North Carolina and four bishops of the Episcopal Church in the state issued similar letters in recent days.
"HB2 targets one of the most vulnerable groups in our society and eviscerates their ability to participate actively in community," Rabbi Lucy Dinner of Temple Beth Or in Raleigh said at a Tuesday afternoon news conference, shortly before rabbis held a Passover prayer service with lawmakers at the Legislative Building.
Dinner recalled the Passover story of Jewish people escaping slavery in Egypt, where Moses implored the pharaoh, "Let my people go."
"We are here to implore the North Carolina legislature and governor, let all people go – and not just to the bathroom," she said. "If only it was just about bathrooms, that would be bad enough. HB2 discriminates in so many more ways."
House Bill 2 was introduced, approved and signed into law in less than 12 hours last month in a one-day special session of the General Assembly. It also requires transgender people to use public bathrooms that align with their birth gender, prevents cities from setting their own minimum wage and bars workers from suing in state court over job discrimination.
Since its passage, North Carolina has been ridiculed and vilified nationally, with companies dropping plans to expand operations in the state, performers canceling concerts, trade groups moving their conventions elsewhere and the NBA considering shifting the 2017 All-Star Game out of Charlotte.
Rabbi Fred Guttman of Greensboro said he can't remember any issue that has united North Carolina's Jewish community to this degree. Passover, which is being celebrated this week, is about empathy for strangers and freedom from oppression, he said, adding House Bill 2 goes against both values.
"Throughout history, Jews have been the victim of discrimination, of bias and bigotry," Guttman said. "When it comes to something like HB2, our antenna goes up."
While many evangelical Christian leaders, such as Rev. Mark Creech of the Christian Action League of North Carolina and Rev. Ron Baity of Return America, are vocal supporters of House Bill 2, other denominations are calling for its repeal.
The Methodist bishops' letter, entitled "A More Excellent Way," came out Monday – the first day of the 2016 legislative session – saying Methodists "are called to live the hospitable welcome of God in a world with increasing boundaries, borders, fences and walls." The letter noted the "hurried passage of House Bill 2 and its resultant harm to North Carolina" in urging lawmakers to rescind the measure.
"We dare not add to the increasing levels of fear, suspicion and divisiveness in our state and in our nation. Our calling to welcome, to forgive and to love both God and neighbor is our powerful gift to the world," Bishop Larry Goodpaster, Bishop Hope Morgan Ward and retired bishops Ray Chamberlain, Charlene Kammerer, Lawrence McCleskey, C.P. Minnick Jr., Thomas Stockton and William Willimon wrote in the letter.
"We urge all United Methodists to engage in prayer, in study of the issues, in patient listening and persevering conversation with others who hold differing opinion, and in courageous advocacy for what is right, just and good for all people in North Carolina," they wrote.
The rabbis' letter takes a similar stance.
"As leaders of a faith community which has repeatedly suffered from state-sponsored discrimination and citizen-based prejudice, we will not stand idly by as our North Carolina legislature weakens the legal protections of our Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender brothers and sisters," the letter reads. "The Torah teaches that all human beings are created in the image of God and imbued with infinite value. In that spirit, we declare that our state should, under no circumstance, desecrate the holiness and dignity of any citizen."
Rev. Anne Hodges-Copple, Rev. Porter Taylor, Rev. Robert Skirving and Rev. Peter James Lee of the three Episcopal diocese of North Carolina issued a two-page letter Tuesday that said "the issue of discrimination is not partisan, nor is it secular" but that "inhibits our very capacity to care for one another and to work for the common good."
"The response against HB2, in North Carolina and around the world, shows evidence that this bill affects the lives of more than a few people using the bathroom; it touches on the ongoing struggle for equality," the bishops wrote. "Because we strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity every human being, we call on the North Carolina State Legislature to repeal HB2. We encourage our leaders to listen to the experiences of LGBT citizens and to seek to understand their lives and circumstances. Furthermore, we offer our prayers and support for the LGBT community, and for all who are affected by this bill."
North Carolina's two Catholic bishops criticized a Charlotte ordinance allowing transgender people to use public bathrooms that correspond to their gender identity and asked lawmakers to overturn it. However, Bishop Michael Burbidge in Raleigh and Bishop Peter J. Jugis in Charlotte haven't taken a stand on the resulting House Bill 2.
"Due to the complexity of HB2 as well as the fact that the full legal ramifications are still being debated, the Diocese does not have a position on HB2," William Atwell, a spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Raleigh, said in an email to WRAL News.
Leaders of the Presbyterian Church (USA) came out in opposition to House Bill 2 days after it was enacted, calling it "discriminatory both to the LGBT community and everyday employees in North Carolina."
The North Carolina Council of Churches also issued an early statement on the law entitled "Making Discrimination Easier in NC." The inter-denominational group said the law "puts us on the wrong side of the prophets who preached justice and mercy, calling on us to be better than our fears and to transcend our biases."