Georgia Governor Nathan Deal Signals Intent To Abandon Religious Liberty

religious-freedomGeorgia Governor Nathan Deal (R) is now the one person in that state who will decide if Georgia will enact a religious liberty bill that provides for the protection of First Amendment freedoms or if the state will abandon religious liberty in favor of money.  Money that will come from a likely future Super Bowl at the new, $1.3 billion Atlanta Falcons stadium, currently under construction.  Religious liberty or money.

The decision Deal must make is whether or not to sign House Bill 757, passed by the Georgia Senate late last week.  The bill has been in the works for a long time and has had plenty of time to pick up some powerful opposition.

Yahoo! Sports – The Metro Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau has said the negative economic impact on the state as a result of the bill could be $1 billion to $2 billion. Home Depot, Coca-Cola, Google and Microsoft have all opposed the law, as have the Braves, Falcons and Hawks.

So what exactly does this bill say that has caused all this hullabaloo?

AJC.com – When introduced early this year, the bill originally promised pastors they could not be forced to perform a same-sex wedding ceremony. The Senate, however, added language last month that would have allowed faith-based organizations and individuals to opt out of serving couples — gay or straight — or following anti-discrimination requirements if they cited a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction regarding marriage.

The changes unveiled Wednesday made more changes after both Gov. Nathan Deal and House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, objected to the Senate version. While the bill still says no pastor can be forced to perform a same-sex wedding ceremony, it adds language that says no individual can be forced to attend one.

The bill would protect faith-based organizations from having to rent or allow its facility to be used for an event it finds “objectionable.”

These organizations, which include churches, religious schools or associations, would not be required to provide social, educational or charitable services “that violate such faith-based organization’s sincerely held religious belief.” However, the amendment says government can enforce the terms of a grant, contract or other agreement.

Faith-based organizations also could not be forced to hire or retain an employee whose “religious beliefs or practices or lack of either are not in accord with the faith-based organization’s sincerely held religious belief.”

Finally, it includes much of the language found federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, which requires government to prove a “compelling governmental interest” before it interferes with a person’s exercise of religion.

However, it adds that it cannot be used to allow “discrimination on any grounds prohibited by federal or state law.”

The NFL has weighed in, making a veiled threat that any future Super Bowl at the new Atlanta Falcons stadium would be in jeopardy if Governor Deal signs the bill.  Yes, the NFL is threatening the State of Georgia economically in order to prevent the state government from ensuring religious liberty is protected.  The NFL released a statement that sounds an awful lot like the organization is saying that laws must match NFL policy before a Super Bowl in the state will be considered.

“NFL policies emphasize tolerance and inclusiveness, and prohibit discrimination based on age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other improper standard,” the league’s statement to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution said. “Whether the laws and regulations of a state and local community are consistent with these policies would be one of many factors NFL owners may use to evaluate potential Super Bowl host sites.”

The Disney Company has voiced their own threat, saying that if the bill is signed they will pull out of Georgia and stop filming movies and television shows there.   And yesterday I read the AMC television network issued a strongly worded statement against the bill, but stopped short of promising to withdraw their people from the state.  Their highly popular show The Walking Dead is filmed in Georgia due to the lucrative tax breaks the state provides the filming industry.

Georgia State Senator Greg Kirk, the bill’s sponsor, said the outrage was just a “scare tactic.”  He also pointed out a fact to the Albany Herald that seems to be ignored by those who are opposed to the bill, saying “We have international businesses in this state who do business in countries that chop off the heads of homosexuals and they never say a word about that.  I don’t think making this bill law will have any meaningful impact on businesses in the state.”

Basically, what this all comes down to is the left using corporate interests and economic extortion to force Governor Deal to veto the bill.  After all, it worked two years ago in Arizona.  Homosexuals and their corporate backers were successful in getting Governor Jan Brewer to veto a similar bill under threat of losing a Super Bowl.

The left opposes religious liberty bills because they do not want business owners such as Aaron and Melissa Klein to be allowed to decline doing business with homosexuals, if doing so would violate their religious beliefs.  The Kleins owned a bakery in Oregon and had to close it when they were fined $150,000 by the state after they declined to make a wedding cake for two lesbians.

Governor Deal seems to have already signaled what his decision will be.

AJC.com – In stark terms, the Republican said he would reject any measure that “allows discrimination in our state in order to protect people of faith,” and urged religious conservatives not to feel threatened by the ruling. He also called on his fellow Republicans pushing for the measure to take a deep breath and ” recognize that the world is changing around us.”

He added:

“I know that there are a lot of Georgians who feel like this is a necessary step for us to take. I would hope that in the process of these last few days, we can keep in mind the concerns of the faith-based community, which I believe can be protected without setting up the situation where we could be accused of allowing or encouraging discrimination.”

Then came a more remarkable moment for the governor, who has largely sought to skirt the debate this year.

Standing in the lobby of a government building after a ribbon-cutting ceremony, he laid out a lengthy condemnation of the measure from a biblical perspective, first noting that he is a Southern Baptist who took religion courses at Mercer University.

“What the New Testament teaches us is that Jesus reached out to those who were considered the outcasts, the ones that did not conform to the religious societies’ view of the world … We do not have a belief in my way of looking at religion that says we have to discriminate against anybody. If you were to apply those standards to the teaching of Jesus, I don’t think they fit.”

He then turned to a passage from the Gospel of John that showed Jesus reaching out to an outcast.

“What that says is we have a belief in forgiveness and that we do not have to discriminate unduly against anyone on the basis of our own religious beliefs. We are not jeopardized, in my opinion, by those who believe differently from us. We are not, in my opinion, put in jeopardy by virtue of those who might hold different beliefs or who may not even agree with what our Supreme Court said the law of the land is on the issue of same-sex marriage. I do not feel threatened by the fact that people who might choose same-sex marriages pursue that route.”

The governor said he and his wife Sandra, who will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary this summer, believe in “traditional marriage” between a man and a woman.

“But that does not mean that those who hold to that view should feel like they are threatened by those who have a different point of view,” he said.

It seems pretty clear that the governor is trying to prepare the bill’s supporters for an eventual veto.

I completely disagree with the governor and his reasoning.  While he is completely correct that the New Testament teaches us that Jesus reached out to those who were considered outcasts, it does not teach us that Jesus participated in their sinful activity as a way of reaching out to them.  As a fellow Southern Baptist, I’m sure Governor Deal would never presume to take the position that Christians should be endorsing sinful activity by taking part in it, promoting it, facilitating it or providing services in support of it.  But by vetoing this bill that is precisely what he will be forcing Christian business owners to do.  Does Governor Deal believe that bakers such as the Kleins in Oregon should make be forced to make the wedding cakes for homosexual weddings?

The First Amendment provides for the free exercise of religion.  I’m unable to find anything in our Constitution that protects someone from getting their feelings hurt.  Signing this bill should be a no-brainer, but I fully expect Governor Deal to succumb to all the threatened economic extortion and veto the bill.  If and when that happens, he will have made it clear that he believes the State of Georgia should favor money over religious liberty.  Indiana did.  Arizona did.  Georgia will, too.  Which state will be next?

Update 3/28/16:  Governor Deal has vetoed the bill.

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