Fayette County’s message: ‘We discriminate’

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I’m compelled to write concerning the actions of our County Commissioners decision to join the fight over “religious liberty.”

I’ve lived in Fayette County for over 20 years. Over that time I’ve taken pride in working with my neighbors to make Fayette a great place to raise our families, run our businesses, and serve our community.

Our Chamber of Commerce just recently launched a “talent attraction” website with our new county-wide #createyourstory brand. Fayette’s path to a prosperous future requires being seen as a place where everyone is welcome to create their story.

As the home to a movie studio, we want to continue to be where the world’s most popular stories are created. In the general spirit of southern hospitality we must go out of our way to make everyone feel welcome.

We don’t always measure up. There have been many times over the last six years people in this community have told me that I’m not fit to be a leader here, or that I’m an outsider, or that I should just leave because of what they think my religious beliefs might be.

Thankfully my religious freedom is protected by the U.S. Constitution and federal law. Despite these protections, and despite the fact that there are no known problems in Fayette, the County Commission decided they needed to speak out in favor of the passage of a state law.

The commission didn’t change any local law or policy in Fayette County. Their actions were purely symbolic. And despite their protestations, the message they sent is they believe people should have a religious right to discriminate.

One reason the message they send is one of discrimination is because the vocal supporters of this bill speak of their religious right to deny services to our friends and neighbors who are gay and transgender. Citizen after citizen spoke of their religious right to deny services and turn away customers, rhetoric scarily familiar to the civil rights movement.

That message of discrimination is why Governor Deal vetoed a similar measure two years ago after unprecedented backlash from large businesses like Coke and Delta, small businesses, the Metro and Georgia Chambers of Commerce, and people of faith from across our state.

When we communicate, we must be cognizant of the message we send. We must realize that messages and words and norms change over time. There is no question in the business community the message that these measures send in 2018 is one of discrimination.

I don’t believe the majority of Fayette County wants to send a message of discrimination despite our commissioners’ actions. Fayette County is a place where all are welcome to create their stories. Fayette County is a place where we go out of our way to welcome everyone.

Fayette County is a place where we all want to raise our families, run our businesses, and serve our community, irrespective of our races, religions, genders, or sexual orientations.

Leonard Presberg
Unincorporated Fayette County

[Mr. Presberg is the District 4 member of the Fayette County Board of Education and chair of the Fayette County Democratic Committee.]