Georgia’s Baptist governor announced March 28 he would veto a controversial “religious freedom” bill that opponents said would foster LGBT discrimination.
Gov. Nathan Deal, a member of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship-aligned First Baptist Church in Gainesville, Ga., said he had no objection to the “Pastor Protection Act” that passed in the House of Representatives, but language added in the Senate “could give rise to state-sanctioned discrimination.”
“As I’ve said before, 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 of our lives,” the Republican governor said in a Monday morning press conference.
The bill would have exempted religious leaders, faith-based organizations and people of faith from performing actions such as solemnizing or attending a same-sex marriage and hiring church personnel or renting church property contrary to their sincerely held religious beliefs.
While most people would agree that government should not force such actions, the governor said, to his knowledge there has not been a single instance of any such thing taking place in Georgia. Examples cited by supporters of photographers and bakers ordered to take part in same-sex weddings against their will, he said, all happened in other states with different anti-discrimination laws than Georgia.
“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,” said Deal, a graduate of Baptist-affiliated Mercer University. “If indeed our religious liberty is conferred by God and not by man-made government, we should need the ‘hands-off’ admonition of the First Amendment to our Constitution. When legislative bodies attempt to do otherwise, the inclusions and omissions in their statues can lead to discrimination, even though it may be unintentional. That is too great a risk to take.”
Americans United for Separation of Church and State applauded the governor’s veto.
“We strongly support religious freedom, but that principle doesn’t mean the right to discriminate against or harm other Georgians,” said AU Legislative Director Maggie Garrett. “We hope that other states that are considering similar bills will heed the lessons learned from Georgia and reject discriminatory measures in their states.”
Mike Griffin, a lobbyist for the Georgia Baptist Convention supporting stronger guarantees of religious liberty in light of last summer’s U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage, said on Twitter the governor “disappointed the citizens of Georgia” with his veto.
James Lamkin, pastor of Northside Drive Baptist Church in Atlanta, applauded the governor for “courageous leadership” in vetoing the measure.
“Religious Freedom doesn’t mean freedom to discriminate in the name of religion,” Lamkin said. “As Georgians, we affirm that robust religious freedom is already woven into the fabric of our community; and it is done so by the threads of responsibility, fairness, and equality.”