Religious Freedom Loses in Georgia

by Rodney Pelletier  •  •  March 29, 2016   

Gov. Deal: "I can find no examples that any of the things this bill seeks to protect us against have ever occurred in Georgia"

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ATLANTA ( - Georgia governor Nathan Deal announced Tuesday he is vetoing a controversial religious freedom bill passed by the state legislature.

House Bill 757 — called the Free Exercise Protection Act — protects people and religious organizations from being compelled to participate in acts contrary to their "sincerely held" religious beliefs. It also protects people from civil and state legal claims and penalties — namely, same-sex wedding ceremonies.

It goes on to say a refusal cannot "give rise to a civil claim or cause of action against such individual or result in any state action to penalize, withhold benefits from, or discriminate against such individual based on such refusal."

It also states: "No faith-based organization shall be required to rent, lease, or otherwise grant permission for property to be used by another person for an event which is objectionable to such faith-based organization."

Governor Deal justified his decision to veto HB 757, maintaing there have been no occurrences in Georgia when a persons religious rights have been infringed over LGBT issues, concluding the law is of no use.

He noted two occasions — a photographer in New Mexico and a bakery in Colorado — where laws dictate business owners must cooperate in some way with a same-sex civil marriage despite their religious beliefs. He concluded that New Mexico and Colorado have "human rights" laws to force people to do these things, whereas Georgia does not.

I find it ironic that today some in the religious community feel it necessary to ask the government to confer upon them certain rights and protections. 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.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage last summer, several states have sought to make laws acknowledging a person's right to abstain from participating in things they find religiously objectionable.

Same-sex marriage proponents maintain the laws are "discrimination." Enormous pressure has been brought on Georgia to quash HB 757, including pressure from Hollywood.

Disney owns the lucrative comic book film franchise Marvel Studios and has recently shot some of their movies in the state, while AMC Networks owns the wildly popular show "The Walking Dead." Both companies threatened to stop filming in Georgia if Gov. Deal signed the bill into law.

The National Football League threatened to remove Atlanta from consideration for hosting the Super Bowl in 2019 or 2020. A new $1.4 billion stadium is in the process of being built and is expected to be finished next summer.

Deal complained that some in the "religious community" are accusing him of capitulating to the threats from Hollywood, the NFL, and other big businesses. He answered, "I do not respond well to insults or threats."

Georgia's Catholic bishops issued a statement on Deal's veto:

The general well-being of the State requires that all respectfully acknowledge the worthy motivations on each side and progress into a future of dialogue which, more than continually revising legislative language, will focus on greater compassion and mercy so that every individual can develop his or her full potential.

They made no mention of the preservation of a person's right to follow his conscience in the objection to same-sex civil marriage: "[W]e do not support any implementation … in a way that will discriminate against any individual."

Deal's veto comes when Georgia's legislature has gone on vacation. Since it will only return in January 2017, no appeal or rewrite of HB 757 is expected.


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