Social Conservatives Lament, Analyze Georgia Religious Liberty Veto

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal must decide whether to sign a controversial religious freedom bill into law. In this photo, he is speaking during an annual Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Service in Atlanta, on Jan. 17, 2011. REUTERS/Tami Chappell
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal –┬áIn this photo, he is speaking during an annual Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Service in Atlanta, on Jan. 17, 2011. REUTERS/Tami Chappell

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal’s veto of a religious liberty bill March 28 has provoked a stream of responses from social conservatives.

Despite a Clout Research poll indicating two-thirds of Georgians supported House Bill 757 — the Free Exercise Protection Act — the measure fell just short of a veto-proof majority in each chamber of the Georgia General Assembly.

The bill combined elements of a Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a First Amendment Defense Act and a Pastor Protection Act.

The consensus among conservative commentators seemed to be the bill lacked protection for wedding service providers like bakers and florists. But Mike Griffin, public affairs representative for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, told Baptist Press previously that a section stipulating no individual would be forced to participate in a same-sex wedding may have been applicable to for-profit businesses.

In the veto’s aftermath, evangelicals offered a variety of arguments and analyses.

Gerald Harris, editor of Georgia Baptists’ Christian Index newsjournal, said the veto appeared to belie Deal’s claim, “I do not respond well to insults or threats.” Deal squelched the bill, Harris noted, after the NFL, movie production companies, Apple, Intel and others threatened to withdraw business from Georgia if the measure became law.

The NFL suggested enacting the bill could cause Atlanta to be dropped from consideration to host the 2019 or 2020 Super Bowl in favor of New Orleans, Tampa or Miami.

“The argument that Atlanta could lose out to cities in Florida and Louisiana because of a religious liberty bill is ludicrous,” Harris wrote in a March 30 editorial, “because those two states already passed similar legislation. Furthermore, Houston, Texas, where a bill very much like HB 757 has also been passed, will host the 2017 Super Bowl.”

Claims that other businesses would have stayed away from Georgia or moved their operations elsewhere were similarly ludicrous, Harris wrote. He noted that auto manufacturer Volvo opened its first U.S. plant in South Carolina even though the Palmetto State has adopted a religious liberty bill.

If Disney were serious about its threat to suspend the filming of movies in Georgia, Harris wrote, it would have moved its theme parks out of Florida because of the religious liberty law there.

Josh Wester and Andrew Walker of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission argued Deal was incorrect in his claim the First Amendment is the only religious liberty protection same-sex marriage opponents need.

“Governor Deal characterized the efforts of religious conservatives to secure guarantees for constitutional freedoms as unnecessary and misguided,” Wester and Walker wrote in an article posted on erlc.com, a characterization “apparently at odds with President Bill Clinton, who signed a similar federal bill into law, and the ACLU, which supported its passage in the 1990s.”

They added, “The threat to religious freedom is real, not imagined. In failing to enact this bill, Governor Deal has worked to further isolate, alienate and stigmatize the millions of citizens with a religious belief about marriage. In passing H.B. 757, legislators in Georgia took a meaningful step toward safeguarding religious freedom, but unfortunately the effort was upended by Governor Deal’s decision to veto.”

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SOURCE: Baptist Press
David Roach