March 28, 2016
The devil has gone to Georgia again, but this time it was in the form of Big Business and cowardly politicians. In a staggering announcement this morning, the two-term governor of the Peach State has capitulated to big business and decided to give the government a blank check to punish Georgia’s men and women of faith. Days after a watered-down religious liberty bill sailed through both houses of the legislature, Governor Deal has decided that even the flimsiest of protections for churches are too much for Georgia’s Christians. Like Hollywood and Big Business, he thinks the state should be able to dictate what people believe -- and torment those who don’t conform.
Sound familiar? It should. Any totalitarian regime operates by the same philosophy. And while the persecution takes different forms, the effect is still the same: faith-based oppression. According to Deal, a bill so weak that it wouldn’t even protect the nuns at Little Sisters of the Poor “doesn’t reflect the character of our state or the character of its people.” But apparently, open season on religious liberty does?
All this measure would have done is shield churches and a tiny sliver of faith-based groups from any penalties Georgia might dole out for their beliefs on marriage. Under the bill that Governor Deal thought was too extreme, public officials like Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis could still go to jail, Robert and Cynthia Gifford would have still lost their wedding business, and fire chiefs like Atlanta’s Kelvin Cochran could still be fired. Everyday people like Edie and David Delorme would have still been targets.
Yet even the barest of protections was too much for Deal, who, in vetoing H.B. 757, has managed to align himself with the most radical fringe in America. A full 83 percent of this country -- including the majority of atheists -- are strongly opposed to punishing people for their beliefs. (And they were polled about much broader protections than H.B. 757!) Less than 17 percent of the nation sides with bullies like Georgia’s governor, who think we should use the government as a club to beat over the heads of believers. A lot must have changed since 1993 when then-Congressman Deal helped pass the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), unanimously, on a voice vote. Now even a cheap imitation is “discriminatory.” But Georgians are about to find out for whom.
Lost in the threats from the NFL, Apple, Disney, Marvel, and Intel is the reality that this isn’t about standing up for LGBT rights -- it’s about standing up for everyone’s rights. Instead of taking his cues from Hollywood, maybe the governor should have read the proposal to see how narrow the bill’s scope actually was. If anything, Deal should have vetoed the H.B. 757 for not being strong enough to protect the First Freedom of Georgians. Now, because of his unwillingness to defend even churches, the man who said he wouldn’t allow discrimination just authorized the biggest expansion of it -- against Christians. That kind of gutless capitulation may make him more popular with out-of-state activists, but it won’t fly with the state’s conservatives, who hold the keys to the next three years of Deal’s agenda.
If you’re wondering where this kind of cowardice leads, look no further than Indiana, where Governor Mike Pence’s (R) career is hanging by a political thread. Compare that to the strength of places like Houston and Mississippi, where conservatives stuck up for constitutional freedoms, instead of running from them. And guess what? The NCAA and NFL threats turned out to be empty ones. Unlike Pence, Deal won’t have to face voters again -- but he will have to face himself years from now when he comes to the realization that he did nothing to protect innocent Georgians from the heavy hand of government.
Although the legislative session ended Friday, Republicans are already floating the possibility of a special session to override Deal’s veto. Contact your leaders in Georgia and urge them to do exactly that. If the governor won’t protect churches, the legislature must.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.