Governor Deal vetoed House Bill 757, commonly referred to as the Religious Freedom Act. His stated reason was that the law was not necessary in Georgia. He referred specifically to requiring someone to participate in a religious ceremony, including marriage ceremonies, if it was contrary to sincerely held religious beliefs.
“While most people would agree that government should not force such actions, there has not been a single instance of such taking place in Georgia. If there has been any case of this type in our state it has not been called to my attention.”
In explaining his veto, Governor Deal referred to cases in two other states which supporters of the bill raised. One was the case of a photographer in New Mexico and the other a bakery in Colorado. Both refused to provide their services for a wedding ceremony between two people of the same sex. Governor Deal correctly pointed out that these cases were under state laws which do not exist in Georgia.
“Therefore, as I have examined the protections this bill seeks to provide to religious organizations and people of faith I can find no examples that any of the things this bill seeks to protect us against have ever occurred in Georgia. It is also apparent that the cases being cited from other states occurred because those state[s] had passed statutes that specifically protected their citizens from adverse actions based on their sexual orientation. Georgia has no such statutes.”
Governor Deal’s reasoning is that there is no need for this legislation. Read his comments carefully and you will see that the status quo is actually stronger than the bill that was passed.
There is a key sentence in the paragraph above. “Georgia has no such statutes.” Sexual orientation is not a protected class in Georgia. That means that right now, the photographer, baker, florist, restaurant owner, and any other business or service can hang up a sign outside that says, “We don’t serve gays.”
Governor Deal has rightly pointed out that he could find no instance of the things HB 757 seeks to protect us against ever happening in Georgia. Using the same reasoning, I think that one would be hard pressed to find instances of discrimination based on sexual orientation even though that is not a protected class.
Looking at Governor Deal’s reasoning from the point of smaller government, I can see his point. When laws are passed, it makes government more complex. More complexities lead to regulations and rulings. More regulations and rulings lead to more personnel and more costs to administer and comply with the regulations and rulings.
Governor Deal, however, undermined his reasoning when he said that he had no objection to the original Pastor Protection Act. That act stated that a member of the clergy could not be forced to participate in a ceremony against his or her sincerely held religious beliefs. If the final version of HB 757 was not necessary, then the original version was even more unnecessary.
The Pastor Protection Act as originally written was a worthless piece of legislation. Every day members of the clergy make decisions to participate or not participate in religious ceremonies. My friend Senator Josh McKoon says that the Pastor Protection act should have truthfully been called the Politician Protection Act. It’s only value would be to politicians returning to their home districts to say that they “stood up” for religious freedom.
This all began last year when the Georgia Senate passed a state version of the Federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, commonly referred to as RFRA. We still need RFRA and not to protect florists, bakers, and photographers from being forced to participate in same sex wedding ceremonies. Contrary to current perception, they can’t be forced to do so now.
We need the Georgia RFRA to reign in out of control bureaucrats who use the force of government to prohibit the “free exercise thereof” of an individual’s 1st amendment rights. There are plenty of cases that have been documented in Georgia where that has happened.
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