Republican Governor of Georgia Nathan Deal has just vetoed the state’s religious liberty bill, dealing a major blow to Christians across the state.
The Georgia governor has bowed down to liberal pressure and threats from businesses who claim the bill would be used to discriminate against the LGBT community in the state.
Gov. Nathan Deal said he will veto the “religious liberty” bill that triggered a wave of criticism from gay rights groups and business leaders and presented him with one of the most consequential challenges he’s faced since his election to Georgia’s top office.
The measure “doesn’t reflect the character of our state or the character of its people,” the governor said Monday in prepared remarks. He said state legislators should leave freedom of religion and freedom of speech to the U.S. Constitution.
“Their efforts to purge this bill of any possibility that it would allow or encourage discrimination illustrates how difficult it is to legislate something that is best left to the broad protections of the First Amendment,” he said.
The governor’s planned veto will likely infuriate religious conservatives who considered the measure, House Bill 757, their top priority. This is the third legislative session they’ve sought to strengthen legal protections from opponents of gay marriage, but last year’s Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex weddings galvanized their efforts.
It is also likely to herald a more acrimonious relationship between Deal, who campaigned on a pro-business platform, and the evangelical wing of the Georgia Republican party. Already, prominent conservatives have vowed to revive the measure next year if Deal chooses not to sign it.
The governor, though, had ample cover from the measure’s critics. Executives from dozens of big-name companies, including Disney, Apple, Time Warner, Intel and Salesforce, called on the governor to veto the bill. The NFL warned it could risk Atlanta’s bid for the Super Bowl and the NCAA hinted it could influence the state’s ability to host championship games. And Deal’s office said two economic development prospects have already abandoned Georgia because of the legislation.
The legislation, which first surfaced on March 16 and passed both Republican-controlled chambers in hours, would allow faith-based organizations to deny services to those who violate their “sincerely held religious belief” and preserve their right to fire employees who aren’t in accord with those beliefs.
It also mirrors language found in the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was signed by President Bill Clinton and adopted by dozens of states, requiring government to prove a “compelling governmental interest” before it interferes with a person’s exercise of religion. And it includes a clause saying it could not be used to allow discrimination banned by state or federal law.
Seen by supporters as a “compromise” effort, the measure was swiftly condemned by the Metro Atlanta Chamber, the state’s most influential business group, and by leaders of major international tech corporations.
The Human Rights Campaign called on Hollywood film companies to abandon Georgia if Deal signs the measure, and many issued threats that they would. Each of Atlanta’s pro sports franchises criticized the measure, as did the owner of the Atlanta Falcons.
It was far from a one-sided fight, however. The conservative Faith and Freedom Coalition launched robo-calls backing the measure, and the Georgia Baptist Mission Board marshaled its 1.3 million members to rally around the bill. State Sen. Josh McKoon and other prominent supporters cast it as a way to protect faith-based beliefs.
Here’s a report on the Georgia bill:
Are you surprised that a Republican governor would go out of his way to hurt Christians the way Deal did? How should they respond? Share your thoughts below!