Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal on Monday, March 28 vetoed a controversial bill that sought to protect religious freedom but was criticized as potentially being discriminatory, especially against the LGBT community.
The Free Exercise Protection Act, which was passed by state lawmakers March 16, set out to protect faith-based organizations that chose to decline services that they argue violate their beliefs. Critics, however, said the bill would lead to anti-gay discrimination.
“I do not think we have to discriminate against anyone to protect the faith-based community in Georgia, of which I and my family have been a part for all of our lives,” Deal said.
Several major media companies had publicly stated that they would cease doing business in Georgia if the state approved the so-called anti-gay bill.
The NFL, too, came out against the bill, saying that they would not accept any bids from Atlanta, home of the Falcons, to host the Super Bowl.
Q: What do you think about Gov. Deal’s decisions to veto the bill? What are your thoughts on the criticism it received from businesses, which Deal said he ignored?
I applaud the governor’s veto. In my mind, he exercised true leadership. Had the measure been enacted, some people would have lost what all Americans say they value: true freedom. Voltaire was a Frenchman of the 18th century and certainly not an American, but in a quote often misattributed to the philosopher, his English biographer wrote, roughly, “I may disagree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Here in America we value the freedom to do what we want as long as someone else is not hurt. I suppose those in favor of that outrageous and discriminatory bill could say that other people’s behavior “hurt” them, but how, exactly? I may not like to look at you; in fact, you may disgust me! But what I feel about you doesn’t give me the right to discriminate against you.
We have a saying in this country: a man’s home is his castle, and what that means, essentially, is that what I do in my house is none of your business! You know, private property and all that.
That “religious freedom” bill had nothing to do with freedom; it had to do with putting restrictions on other Americans who are simply different. As for the businesses that threatened not to come to Georgia if that bill passed, good for them! In fact, because of a recently passed discriminatory bill in North Carolina, some people in professional football are already making overtures to the NFL to come to Atlanta for a future Super Bowl instead of Charlotte. And I say, “Good for them!” And I want to add one more thing for some of my fellow Christians: Against whom would Jesus discriminate?
The Rev. Skip Lindeman
La Cañada Congregational Church
La Cañada Flintridge
I agree with Gov. Deal’s decision to veto the bill. I don’t know that he was or was not influenced by the NFL or Disney or any other company, league, etc.
I am glad he was influenced by Martin Niemuller, himself a very prominent member of our faith community. How do I know that? If you have a “discriminating mind” read his poem below.
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.”
Rabbi Mark Sobel
Temple Beth Emet
Second, but still a minor part of the issue, is to point out the obvious: “free exercise” of religion is already protected by the 1st Amendment; no other legislation is necessary. And the spirit, probably the letter too, of that law is that religious practice is a protected right, not religious exclusivity. It’s meant to say if you want to worship Apollo and build a shrine to him, you’re free to do so, and no one has a legal right to stop you. And it’s also meant to say those who worship Isis instead can’t refuse service to the Apollo-worshipers, based solely on their religious belief.
But even that broad stroke doesn’t get to the heart of the matter, which is this: Sexual orientation, identity and practice are not religious matters — at least not in any of the religions I know about. Speaking specifically of Christianity, there is nothing, nothing, in the Bible that prohibits homosexuality per se. Jesus never said a word about it. And the very few verses which mention it do so only secondarily; they are passages about prostitution, adultery, cultic worship, fertility rites and so forth. There is more specific prohibition in the Bible of eating cheeseburgers than there is of loving someone of your own sex.
I really, really wish that people would stop trying to dress up their bigotry with religious language. The only thing that’s Christian about discrimination is that Jesus said not to do it (on this matter, he speaks quite specifically and vociferously).
The freedoms of this country prevent me from telling haters that they’re not allowed to hate; but please stop calling it religion. Because everything I understand about my religion says that it’s all about the love, no holds barred. Love, not hate. Call your hatred something else.
The Rev. Amy Pringle
St. George’s Episcopal Church
La Cañada Flintridge
The LDS church actively supports laws that preserve the rights of people on both sides of the issue. The best example of this is a Utah law passed last year that strengthened rights for the LGBT community while also establishing protections for religious belief in certain, well-defined circumstances. Because it offered protections to both, the law has escaped the kind of backlash that has been directed at other religious freedom laws.
The church has not taken a position on the Georgia law specifically. In my personal view, it doesn’t seem to have been a broad attack on the rights of the LGBT community. However, it may have been more palatable for all sides had it also reiterated certain antidiscrimination protections for members of Georgia’s LGBT community, as well.
But the protections it attempted to put in place were not wrong; they are fully consistent with 1st Amendment guarantees of religious freedom. If we dismiss the right, for example, of a minister to choose whether or not to perform a marriage, we are saying, basically, that the 1st Amendment is no longer relevant.
In an address last year Elder Richard A. Rasband, a member of the church’s Quorum of the Twelve, expressed concern that the rights of religious people are being marginalized.
“Our society has become so blinded by its quest to redress wrongful discrimination against one class of people that it is now in danger of creating another victimized class: people of faith,” he said. “We believe in creating a space for everyone to live their conscience without infringing on the rights and safety of others. When the rights of one group collide against the rights of another, we must follow the principle of being as fair and sensitive to as many people as possible.”
When we lose sight of this idea we will have, as Rasband points out, simply traded one kind of discrimination for another.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
I think that Gov. Deal did the right thing. This is not just about forced baking of wedding cakes. In fact, supporters of the law cannot cite any actual examples of anyone at all in Georgia’s wedding industry having been forced to do anything for same-sex couples in violation of their own religious beliefs.
The struggle against imaginary religious oppression now moves on to North Carolina, where the legislature has passed a piece of legislation worse than Georgia’s.
Interestingly, just two individuals in North Carolina get most of the credit, if you want to call it that, for the measure. David and Jason Benham are brothers who say they are being persecuted by LGBT-rights activists. The Benham’s claim is based on the cancellation of their TV show on house-flipping to have run on HGTV, when the network came under fire because of the brother’s very visible anti-gay and anti-Muslim activism.
So yes, again a business decision trumps hate and discrimination, fortunately. Oh, and by the way, the North Carolina law also forbids localities in the state from instituting a minimum wage higher than the state’s $7.25 per hour, one of the lowest in the U.S. Apparently the anti-gay zealots in the state are also motivated by their views on business freedom, the freedom to pay as little as possible.