Progressives Delighted with Gov. Deal’s Veto of Troubling “Religious Freedom” Bill


keisha and dealWith additional reporting by Matthew Charles Cardinale


(APN) ATLANTA — Gov. Nathan Deal announced on Monday, March 28, 2016, that he will veto HB 757, the so-called “Religious Freedom Bill” passed by the Legislature earlier this year.


Many progressive advocates, faith leaders, and elected officials have responded with delight.


“As a Rabbi, I’m relieved and grateful that religion will not be used to excuse or legalize discrimination in our state, thanks to Governor Deal’s decision to veto HB 757.  I am one of many Georgians who feel that our faith demands that we treat others fairly and kindly, as we would wish to be treated ourselves,” Rabbi Joshua Heller, Congregation B’nai Torah, said in a statement.


“I agree with the Governor’s statement that HB 757 did not ‘reflect the character of our state or the character of its people,’” State Rep. Keisha Waites (D-Atlanta) said in a statement.


“Gov. Deal placed Georgia values over politics and did what was best for Georgians and Georgia’s businesses.  I appreciate the Governor for listening to families in our state and acknowledging that discrimination of any kind of not just bad for business harmful to everyone,” Waites said.


“I am relieved that Governor Deal did the right thing and vetoed HB 757, a bill that would have caused great moral and economic harm to our state,” State Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) said.


But some legislators are not happy with Gov. Deal’s decision to veto HB 757.  State Senator Mike Crane (R-Newnan) has said he wants a special session to override Deal’s veto.


An override requires a two-thirds majority in both chambers.  The bill fell short of that majority by one vote in the Senate and sixteen votes in the House.


The bill was sponsored in the House by State Rep. Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville); a companion bill was sponsored in the Senate by State Sen. Greg Kirk (R-Americus).


The original bill passed the House on February 11, 2016, by a vote of 161 to zero – not a single legislator, even among Democrats, voted against it.


That version was called the “Pastor Protection Act,” which affirmed that pastors have the option of not performing a same-sex marriage.  Pastors already have that option, so the bill give nothing new; it was really an affirmation of existing federal First Amendment law,


After several trips through the House and Senate with substitutes and amendments added with language that could give rise to state-sanctioned discrimination, the controversy began.


At that point, it became unacceptable to most people, including many faith based groups.


The finally version of HB 757 passed the House and  Senate on March 16, 2016.


It passed the Senate by a vote of 37 to eighteen, and passed the House by a vote of 104 to 65.


Among other things, it purported to give faith-based organizations the right to hire and fire people who violate their “sincerely held religious beliefs,” and the right to refuse to rent facilities for events they find objectionable.


While many proponents of the bill have targeted the LGBTQI community, it could apply, really, to anybody whose existence violates someone’s sincerely-held beliefs: for example, unmarried mothers, atheists, Pagans and others.


There is no need for this legislation in Georgia, Gov. Deal said in his public remarks.


The examples of cases being cited by the proponents of HB 757 have occurred in other states that have anti-discrimination laws on the books.


Gov. Deal correctly pointed out that Georgia does not have a Human Rights Act or a Public Accommodation Act.


In other words, there is no need to codify discrimination into law in Georgia because Georgia already offers no protections against discrimination for the LGBTQI community.


“Efforts to purge this bill of any possibility that it will allow or encourage discrimination illustrates how difficult it is to legislate on something that is best left to the broad protections of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution,” Gov. Deal said.


“That may be why our Founding Fathers did not attempt to list in detail the circumstances that religious liberty embraced.  Instead, they adopted what the late Supreme Court Justice Scalia referred to as ‘negative protection,’” Deal said.


“That is, rather than telling government what it can do regarding religion, they told government what it could not do, namely, ‘establish a religion or interfere with the free exercise thereof,’” Deal said.


“They had previously proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence that Man’s Creator had endowed all men ‘with certain unalienable rights,’ including ‘Liberty’ which embraces religious liberty.  They made it clear that those liberties were given by God and not by man’s government. Therefore, it was unnecessary to enumerate in statue or constitution what those liberties included,” Deal said.


“In light of our history, I find it ironic that today some in the religious community feel it necessary to ask government to confer upon them certain rights and protections.”


“I do not think we have to discriminate against anyone to protect the faith based community in Georgia of which my family and I are a part of for all our lives,” Deal said


Last year, in 2015, dozens of clergy and civil rights leaders, who opposed the 2015 religious freedom legislation, the formerly-proposed “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” sent a letter to the General Assembly.


Numerous companies had stated they would cease doing business in Georgia, including the Walt Disney Company.



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