An Open Letter to Chief Justice Roy Moore

 

29 April 2016

Dear Chief Justice Moore:

As a citizen of Alabama, I am rather disappointed in your press conference comments.  Not only did they portray the events on January 12th incorrectly, they expressed defamation of character of a private citizen.

The facts are Ambrosia Starling did not officiate a wedding on January 12th.  I did.  I am an ordained minister in the Unitarian Universalist faith and serve the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa. It is part of my religion to honor and bless the covenanted relations that we enter into and with couples that includes the rites of marriage. I do not do mock weddings. To have my faith honored with recognizing the marriages that I officiate is an example of the religious freedom that this country honors and values since the days of the founding of this nation’s constitution.  It is in the Bill of Rights that the government shall make no law regarding the establishment of religion or the practice thereof.

Yet, for far too long, this country has forbade my religion’s right to solemnize marriages of same gender weddings and have them recognized by the state.  You say this is not about religion, but it is, Justice Moore.  It is.  By denying equal marriage rights, you are declaring your faith doctrines to be supreme over all religious doctrines and practices and that is simply not the American way in regards to religious freedom. Religious freedom means being able to practice one’s religion without fear of government censure. Not being able to have couples’ marriages recognized by the state is a form of government censure of religion. For you to declare the wedding I officiated a mockery is a show of profound disrespect of the religion I serve as minister. A religion whose American roots date back to the founding of this nation.

The bills being passed under the guise of religious freedom are privileging a certain sect of Christianity.  It does not represent the whole of Christianity nor does it protect any other religions’ practice.  It is sanctioned discrimination against anyone whose faith does not align with this branch of Christianity. This is not religious freedom.  It is religious oppression.

I am authorized by my church and faith tradition to officiate marriages of same gender couples. The marriage I officiated on January 12, 2016, included the signing of the marriage license issued by a probate judge in Alabama. That certificate was filed according to Alabama statutes and a marriage certificate was issued the couple recognizing them as a married couple. If this marriage was illegal and in defiance of your order as you claim, then I would have expected the probate judge to not have issued the license. Further, I would expect that if this was illegal that you would file charges against probate judges who did not follow your order, making every probate judge who has issued licenses accountable to your ruling.  But you have done no such filing and therefore, you have not enforced the law as you claim exists. Why? Because you know you have no authority to overrule the US Supreme Court ruling that lifted the ban on same sex marriages.

But that is not what you stated at the press conference.  Instead you claimed the complaints were an attack on your character. You claimed you were a victim of the media misrepresenting your orders.  Then you made defamatory statements insinuating the mental instability of a private citizen. You are not a licensed Mental Health professional, therefore you have no authority to diagnose or even publicly speculate on the mental health of another person.

As a judge in the attempts to answer complaints on your defiance of a US Supreme Court Ruling, you have once again violated your own profession’s ethics by making these inflammatory statements against a private citizen. It was an attempt to discredit Ambrosia Starling’s and other’s complaints against your ethical conduct.  It was an attempt to inflict injury on Ambrosia Starling’s reputation. I see you.  I see what you are trying to do and it is offensive, not only personally offensive, but offensive to the citizens of this state.

You defended your orders based on the Alabama Supreme Court ruling which by your own quoting the US Constitution at the press conference revealed that it was over ruled by the US Supreme Court. Your own words convict you. Yet, you insist you are in the right. You have shown repeated disregard for the US Supreme Court which ruled that the bans against same sex marriage are unconstitutional.  Your own colleagues of the Alabama Supreme Court do not side with you in this matter. In fact, your colleagues of the Alabama Supreme Court dismissed on March 4 of this year, a challenge to same sex marriages made by some probate judges and a conservative policy group. The Alabama Supreme Court is adhering to the US Supreme Court ruling.

You state your orders are still in effect.  Yet, even the Alabama Supreme Court by their dismissing the challenge declare your orders are not in effect any longer. If they were in effect still, then they would not have dismissed the challenge to same sex marriage. The federal and Alabama state courts have spoken on this matter.  Your legal opinion has been declared unconstitutional by the highest court in the land.  There is no conflict between the courts as you stated at your press conference. They are now in sync.

If you, in good conscience, cannot abide by the highest court in the land then to protect your integrity you need to step down as chief justice. The tide of change is coming to this country. We will finally live up to our highest ideals of liberty and justice for all.  We will no longer privilege one religion over another in this nation.  We will no longer privilege one class of people over another in this nation. We will no longer privilege one gender over another or one sexual orientation over another. We will no longer privilege one race over another in this nation.  Those days are coming to an end. May they come quickly for people are suffering injustices in this land.

Sincerely,

Rev. Fred L Hammond, MS, MDiv

Minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa

 

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Alabama Rally for Secular Government

I was asked to speak at the Alabama Rally for Secular Government that was held on May 3rd at the state capitol in Montgomery, AL.  The following is what I said.

 

In 1801 the Danbury Baptists wrote to President Thomas Jefferson a letter in which they stated:
“ Our sentiments are uniformly on the side of religious liberty: that Religion is at all times and places a matter between God and individuals, that no man ought to suffer in name, person, or effects on account of his religious opinions, [and] that the legitimate power of civil government extends no further than to punish the man who works ill to his neighbor. But sir, our constitution of government is not specific. Our ancient charter, together with the laws made coincident therewith, were adapted as the basis of our government at the time of our revolution. And such has been our laws and usages, and such still are, [so] that Religion is considered as the first object of Legislation, and therefore what religious privileges we enjoy (as a minor part of the State) we enjoy as favors granted, and not as inalienable rights. And these favors we receive at the expense of such degrading acknowledgments, as are inconsistent with the rights of freemen. It is not to be wondered at therefore, if those who seek after power and gain, under the pretense of government and Religion, should reproach their fellow men, [or] should reproach their Chief Magistrate, as an enemy of religion, law, and good order, because he will not, dares not, assume the prerogative of Jehovah and make laws to govern the Kingdom of Christ.”

This letter could have been written today about the Alabama State government which has consistently assumed “the prerogative of Jehovah and make[s] laws to govern the Kingdom of Christ.” This state has passed theological resolutions as to when personhood begins and then passed laws against women who violate their doctrinal belief. This state has constitutionally defined marriage which prevents minority religions to have their marriages recognized by the state. This state continues to allow religious discrimination against gender and sexual identities that do not conform to their doctrinal belief of what constitutes as acceptable expressions of humanity. This state has passed legislation that favors the religious beliefs of a judge enabling that judge to parade his doctrinal beliefs on a statue to shame the rest of Alabamians who do not share his faith. This state house passed a bill that would mandate that religious prayer be taught in the classroom.

Alabama you are in violation of this most sacred right of America—the rights to individual religious freedom –when you codify one religion as being supreme over the rest as you have done with your passage of bills that reflect a specific form of Christianity. You have torn down the wall of separation between church and state and have violated what it fundamentally means to be American.

The separation of church and state is to ensure that all people regardless of their religious persuasion are able to live their lives free from coercion to adhere to one specific belief system. I do not want the children of my church to be taught doctrines that violate my faith’s values that all people are entitled to a free and responsible search for truth and meaning; doctrines that violate my faith’s value of a right of conscience; doctrines that violate my faith’s values of justice, equity, and compassion in human relations. Alabama with the passage of these laws, bills, and resolutions has determined that my faith, Unitarian Universalism, and its values are not respected here.

I call upon all of you listening today to write your legislators and tell them that you will not idly stand by and watch American values of religious freedom be destroyed by the passage of bills that reflect a state religion. I call upon all of you to call and insist that a wall of separation between church and state be preserved so that all people will be free to follow their conscience in matters of faith and not fear legal retribution should they decide to make decisions that violate another’s religious practice.

Standing on the Side of Love–a Spiritual Practice

Yesterday I went to the Statehouse in Montgomery to testify against HB 56, Alabama’s version of Arizona’s SB 1070.  As I listened to the testimony of those who were for this bill, I was struck by the anger they felt towards the values I hold dear.

Values like compassion for others.  Values like acceptance of diversity.  Values like equal opportunities for all.  Values like honoring the integrity and dignity of others. Values like having life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness accessible for everyone.

My faith denomination, Unitarian Universalist,  has been the sponsors of the Standing of the Side of Love Campaign.  It has been used in several ways.  It is prominent in the ongoing immigrant rights struggle in Arizona and elsewhere.  It is prominent in supporting Muslim’s right to freedom of religion in Tennessee and in New York City and other places in America.  It is prominent in the right to marriage campaign across this country.  And most recently, it has been supporting workers rights for collective bargaining in Wisconsin, Indiana, and Ohio.

One of the criticisms lobbied at Unitarian Universalists is that we are not spiritual, that we are too much of the head and not enough, if at all, of the heart.  It has been a fair criticism.  We Unitarian Universalists value reason and critical thinking skills as a way to cut through the unprovable and the improbable in order to see the core of the matter in the hopes that we can make a difference for the better of all of our lives.  Sometimes we have succeeded and sometimes it has been our thorn in our side.

The Standing on the Side of Love campaign is in its very essence a remedy to that criticism.  Many years ago now, I decided to join Rev. Mel White, founder of Soulforce, in a seventeen step journey towards preparation in confronting the homophobia and violent rhetoric within the Christian Church.  This was a series of essays and reflections which I was invited to journal about and discuss with a friend before joining Mel White in Lynchburg, VA to speak with the late Rev. Jerry Falwell about his vitriol against gays.

One of the things Mel White wrote was this:

“When we seek freedom for someone else, we find freedom for ourselves. When we finally make the decision to take a stand against oppression (or the rhetoric that leads to oppression) that stand itself leads us to spiritual renewal whether we win or we lose the battle.”

Those who begin to engage in Standing on the Side of Love have an opportunity, to not only achieve the desired goal of undoing a grave injustice but also to experience a spiritual renewal within themselves.  Okay so that sounds self-centered and not altruistic in the least.

Yet, it is only ourselves that we can change. I cannot make someone else love their neighbor as they themselves would like to be loved.  But I can do that.  I can choose to love my neighbor.  I can reflect on what that action means to me and reinforce it into my behavior.  I can join with others who also choose to love their neighbor and together we can reflect on our common experiences of doing that act and build that into our way of being together.  This is what our Unitarian Universalist congregations aim to do every Sunday.

We can role model that behavior for others to witness.  Standing on the Side of Love is spiritual work.  It is not simply wearing a yellow t-shirt or placing a heart logo on our facebook page.  It is and can be a spiritual practice that helps us be fully in touch with our humanity’s soul.

I do not know how I will be able to face the anger that I faced yesterday if I do not choose to stand on the side of love daily.  I do not know how I will address that anger and possibly soften their anger to seeing another way if I do not choose to stand on the side of love daily.

I invite you to join me to stand on the side of love as if your life and faith depends on it.  I know mine does.  Blessings.