Patrick Henry is quoted as saying, “Give me liberty or give me death!” It is difficult for the average American of our day to identify with the perspective and passion presented in this declaration. As an African-American citizen and pastor, I totally relate to this quote. Approximately 50 years ago, my father was threatened at gunpoint by a misguided state trooper for his involvement in civil rights activities. This death threat and the lynching and torture of several young black men in his state led to my family’s migration to the north.
My father engaged in political activism until his death by natural causes over twenty years later. He instilled in me a love for America – her vision and her promise. He also alerted me to the fact the American liberty is a prize for which blacks must continue to fight.
Today we are engaged in yet another battle, one that I believe threatens our religious expression. I encourage all African Americans to voice our fervent opposition to the “Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007” (HR1592 in the Congress and S1105 in the Senate). This bill could greatly affect our religious liberty.
Although this nation was founded upon Old Testament principles and Christian morality, our liberties have been seriously curtailed within our schools and public buildings. S1105 now threatens to go inside our very houses of worship and forbid us to practice the teachings of the God we serve. Under the guise of extending existing legislation to protect “sexual orientation” and “gender identity,” the hard-fought liberty of religious freedom could be stripped from the most consistent defender of African-American liberty – the black church. As we practice love for homosexuals by preaching the gospel, we could be labeled and tried as those who hate.
We are very aware that several civil rights organizations and some historically black institutions have endorsed this legislation which has been moving around the Hill and among the inside of the beltway elite for nearly a decade. These organizations have been influenced by the huge dollars that gay lobbyists bring to the political table. Unfortunately, no one has consulted with the grassroots leaders of the black church. The balance of this letter enumerates several other concerns we should all share concerning this bill.
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.