Georgia Governor Nathan Deal announced this morning that he will veto HB 757, the Free Exercise Protection Act, which was passed by strong majorities of both legislative chambers. Deal has thus shown where he stands when the heat is turned up — and it’s not with Georgians of faith.
The battle to protect religious liberty in Georgia has been waged over three legislative sessions. Throughout that time, Deal refused to lift a finger to help get a bill passed. If a mega-corporation or an LGBT pressure group threatened to punish the state for daring to enact free-exercise protections, Deal scurried into hiding.
Despite his tacit opposition, HB 757 passed this year. The bill — which a new poll shows is supported by two-thirds of Georgians — combines pastor-protection provisions with elements of a First Amendment Defense Act (FADA) and Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). (Twenty-one states have RFRAs, and 10 more have RFRA-type protections through judicial decision.) The FADA provisions are less extensive than those in the pending federal FADA and merely protect individuals and faith-based organizations from being coerced into violating their deeply held religious beliefs. For example, they prohibit the government from forcing someone to attend a religious service to which he or she objects.
Although this bill represented a compromise from the stronger bill that passed the Senate, the political and corporate Left went predictably berserk. Companies that rake in profits from countries that execute homosexuals announced that the line must be drawn at U.S. states that respect Christians. Similarly, the NFL took time off from wagging its finger at players who beat up women to warn darkly that it might have to award the Super Bowl to another state (the other states under consideration also have religious-liberty statutes, but never mind.) Threats were made, names were called.
And Deal caved. A real conservative, and a real leader, would have called the bullies’ bluff. He would have said the religious freedom of the people of his state outweighs any threatened economic or political harm from doing the right thing. But Deal is no leader. When threatened by hypocrites who would almost certainly have backed down if challenged, he chose instead to cower in the corner — and to justify his capitulation with a lecture from selectively chosen Scripture.
All in all, a pathetic display. And if the governor thinks he has now put this issue to rest, he should stay tuned.
Jane Robbins is an attorney and a senior fellow with the American Principles Project.