Local clergy make appearance at city council meeting in support of human rights ordinance


Communications Director


In late January, clergy from Congregation Ahavath Chesed (The Temple) and the Jacksonville Jewish Center joined with nearly 1,000 of their peers to attend the Jacksonville City Council’s meeting on the expansion of its human rights ordinance (HRO). Rabbi Howard Tilman and Hazzan Jesse Holzer of the Jacksonville Jewish Center, in addition to Rabbi Matt Cohen of The Temple, were just three of a few hundred men and women from the River City to step up to the microphone and make public comment on the matter.


“Currently, my own religious freedom is not being respected in this city,” Tilman explained before city council members . “It is my religion and my faith in the bible that teaches that you should love your neighbor as yourself and that you should treat each and every person with the inherent dignity that they deserve, but right now in this city, the freedom to believe that is not there.”


Tilman spoke for the allotted three minutes that each person coming to speak on the record was afforded, as did Cohen, who echoed his fellow Rabbi’s sentiments.


“The issue is whether or not we want to accept discrimination as right or wrong,” the Temple’s associate Rabbi stated. “I as a Rabbi and a faith leader in our community try to see the good in humanity even if it’s difficult to do so.”


City council members had the difficult task of weighing public opinion with their conscience, but voted to pass the HRO 12-6, when 10 out of 19 members needed the nod for approval.


“I am from Ohio and when I tell my friends there about how wonderful Jacksonville is, I also tell them a little bit about what’s going on with the Human Rights Ordinance and they are in utter disbelief because it doesn’t make any sense,” Cohen said.


But now Jacksonville’s actions do make sense to Cohen and his peers as it becomes one of 250 major cities in the U.S. to pass such a measure.


“This issue is about human decency because we are guided to protect those on the fringes,” Hazzan Holzer conveyed of his feelings to city leaders. “If we are to deny shelter, a job, food, goods and services or deny someone the ability to simply use the facilities as we all need to do, then we deny basic human rights,” he added. “We deny citizens of Jacksonville an opportunity to live a decent life, and in turn, we close off their chance to thrive.”


After the initial Feb. 14th vote, Mayor Lenny Curry will have to sign off on the ordinance before it officially goes into effect.