Deal Against Georgia Religious Freedom Bill

This week, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal (R) announced that he would veto a religious freedom bill, which passed both chambers of the Georgia legislature but had attracted vitriol from the Left and incited threats of economic sanctions from major corporations, including AMC Networks, Apple, Coca-Cola, Disney, Intel, the NFL, and Time Warner. In its final form, the Free Exercise Protection Act (HB 757) would have defended pastors from being forced to solemnize marriages they could not countenance and would have provided a shield for churches, religious schools, and their “integrated auxiliaries” from being coerced into violating their faith with their property or employment practices. A significant retreat from earlier versions of the bill, this legislation would not have covered faith-based family businesses or even some of the same religious ministries being forced all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court by the federal government in the Little Sisters of the Poor case.

Many faith and conservative leaders felt betrayed by Governor Deal and the appearance of “cultural cronyism.” Dr. Jerry A. Johnson, President  & CEO of National Religious Broadcasters, said, “I’m disappointed and, frankly, offended that Governor Deal rejected this most basic of religious freedom bills, kowtowing to the demands of corporate bullies.”  Likewise, Franklin Graham, President of Samaritan's Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, declared that the governor had “sold out the state of Georgia” and “told people of faith that they take second place.”

Still, Governor Deal contended that the final legislation was unwarranted and the concern of faith groups was “ironic.” In his veto statement, the governor said, “If indeed our religious liberty is conferred by God and not by man-made government, we should heed the ‘hands-off’ admonition of the First Amendment to our Constitution. When legislative bodies attempt to do otherwise, the inclusions and omissions in their statutes can lead to discrimination, even though it may be unintentional. That is too great a risk to take.”

Labeling the governor's statement either a "delusion" or an “illusion," Johnson said, "we know a mirage when we see one." He explained, "At best, Governor Deal's explanation reflects simple ignorance of the First Amendment and current threats against it. At worst, the politician was laying down a smoke screen to cover his complete capitulation to political correctness, a complete cave to liberalism. In either case, the governor has sacrificed the freedom to believe, and live, our faith on the altar of the dollar."

Notably, in another attack from the Left, several big businesses are throwing their weight against North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory (R), who last week signed the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act (HB 2) aimed at ensuring individuals adhere to their legally recognized gender in the use of restrooms and similar private spaces.

By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations

Published: April 1, 2016

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