Georgia’s widely watched attempt to hamper lawsuits against certain faith-based organizations, like churches, that refuse to do business with certain individuals because of their “sincerely held religious beliefs” went down in flames Monday after Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed the religious liberty bill passed by the General Assembly.
The bill was aimed in part at countering the legal challenges that erupted in recent months from gay activists who were turned away by private Christian business owners. For instance, the New Mexico Supreme Court in 2013 ruled photographers can’t cite religious beliefs as justification to not take photos at a gay wedding. And in December 2015, Christian bakers were forced to pay a $135,000 fine to a lesbian couple for failing to make them a gay wedding cake. This bill spoke specifically to the idea of churches performing gay marriages, and similar faith-based groups having to conduct business that conflicted with Christian or religious beliefs.
Deal cited these cases during a press conference at the state Capitol, but said he wasn’t aware of any similar battles in Georgia.
He also said House Bill 757, didn’t paint Georgians as the “warm, friendly and loving people” they are, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
He also issued a thinly veiled warning for those who supported the bill to not take revenge on his veto.
“Our people work side by side without regard to the color of our skin, or the religion we adhere to,” he said, the newspaper reported. “We are working to make life better for our families and our communities. That is the character of Georgia. I intend to do my part to keep it that way.”
Deal, a Republican in his second term, had been hit from all political sides about the bill. His office fielded hundreds of calls about the measure, including vows from big-name companies who vowed to quit business in the state if it was passed. Among the corporations opposing the measure: Apple, Disney, Time Warner, Salesforce and the NFL, as WND previously reported. Many in Hollywood also complained, vowing to stop making movies and film productions in the state if Deal signed the bill into law.
The bill was brought forward on March 16 and passed in speedy time by both Republican-controlled sides of the general assembly.
In essence, it gave faith-based organizations, including churches and other faith-tied nonprofits, the ability to deny services to those who violated owners’ “sincerely held religious beliefs,” and to lay off those employees who didn’t conform to those beliefs.
The bill also put the onus on government to show a “compelling interest” to restrict an organization’s religious rights, much as the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act signed by former President Bill Clinton does.
Several state lawmakers have already rallied to force a “veto session” to try and override Deal’s signature.
“There are enough votes in the Senate to override,” one state senator, Brandon Beach, said, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. “I don’t know about the House, though.”
Deal, in response to political pressures he might face from the veto, spoke bluntly.
“I don’t respond well to insults or threats,” he said, the newspaper reported.
The Liberty Institute issued a scathing statement, calling Deal’s veto an attack on religious freedoms.
“Religious freedom is the principle on which this country was founded,” said Kelly Shackelford, president and CEO of First Liberty institute. “Through this veto, Governor Deal turned his back on our founding freedom. Regardless of our differences on certain issues, we should all agree that protecting religious liberty for people of faith, particularly minority faiths, is a good thing. The free exercise of religion is good for society, good for business, and good for the citizens of any state. Vetoing religious freedom is unwise and will harm the people of Georgia.”