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Election Central

Georgia Governor Vetoes Religious Liberty

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal speaks during a press conference to announce he has vetoed legislation allowing clergy to refuse performing gay marriage and protecting people who refuse to attend the ceremonies Monday, March 28, 2016, in Atlanta. The Republican rejected the bill on Monday, saying, On Monday, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal announced he would veto a modified version of a religious liberty bill. Some said this bill would discriminate against the LGBT community. For others, House Bill 757 sought to safeguard church, religious schools, and "integrated auxiliaries," allowing them to work out their religion in the public square for the common good. One side cheered, as this was seen as another step towards equality and liberty for all. But the other side lamented because this was the perceived as the continuation of a forced march of intolerant tolerance.

House Bill 757 would have provided shelter for clergy from having to officiate same-sex weddings. It would have prevented faith-based organizations from being forced to hire someone who publicly undermines their mission. Also, it would have also prohibited the state government from discriminating against churches and their affiliated ministries because they believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. What is so striking it that this modified version of the original bill did not offer protections to bakers, florists, and other wedding service providers that have been in the news as oflate. Yet, even this watered down bill did not pass.

Governor Deal found the bill "doesn't reflect the character of our state or the character of its people." Not thinking the bill was necessary, the governor went on to add that "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 of for all of our lives." His faith-based community is First Baptist Church of Gainesville, which is a part of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship—a more progressive part of the Baptist tradition.

The governor concluded that, when it comes to Georgia, religious freedom "is best left to the broad protections of the First Amendment." This, despite the fact that even the federal government determined that it needed more than the First Amendment when it passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 1993. And that twenty other states have adopted their own state religious freedom restoration acts, and eleven more have constitutional religious liberty protections that provide a similar level of protection.

Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post noted that this should not come to us as a surprise. Governor Deal's public speeches indicated he was theologically and politically leaning this way for some time.

Speaking to a group earlier in March, Deal said, "What the New Testament teaches us is that Jesus reached out to those who were considered the outcasts, the ones that did not conform to the religious societies' view of the world. . . . We do not have a belief in my way of looking at religion that says we have to discriminate against anybody. If you were to apply those standards to the teaching of Jesus, I don't think they fit."

But he went on to say, "I hope that we can all just take a deep breath, recognize that the world is changing around us, and recognize that it is important that we protect fundamental religious beliefs." He added, "But we don't have to discriminate against other people in order to do that. And that's the compromise that I'm looking for."

Deal, in looking for compromise, issued his veto.

The Founding Fathers acknowledged our rights come from God, and government is our shared project to protect and ensure those rights, Deal punted. The great American experiment has been predicated upon the need for virtue. The Founders knew that religion, not any one in particular, had the propensity to produce the virtue necessary in order to support the nation, especially in its infancy.

Consider our Founders', who came from a variety of religious backgrounds, own words:

"Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim tribute to patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness—these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. . . reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principles." George Washington

"Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become more corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters." Benjamin Franklin

"It is in the manners and spirit of a people which preserve a republic in vigour. . .  degeneracy in these is a canker which soon eats into the heart of its laws and constitution." Thomas Jefferson

"The institution of delegated power implies that there is a portion of virtue and honor among mankind which may be a reasonable foundation of confidence." Alexander Hamilton

"To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical idea." James Madison

"We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry would break the strongest cords of our constitution as a whale goes through a net." John Adams

"Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other." John Adams

The Constitution guaranteed the free exercise of religion while equally prohibiting the state sponsorship of it. This mutually beneficial relationship was never intended to have a wall to separate the two from interacting one with another. Rather, the faux Jeffersonian wall was meant to allow the state to benefit from the church relative to virtue, and keep the church free from the burdensome entanglements of the state.

This religious freedom is not a license to do whatever one wants in the name of religion. Rather, it is a lever to which the religious person can cling when challenged in the courts. If challenged, the individuals working out their religion must show to the court that they have a substantial burden on a sincere belief. The government must show they have a compelling reason to interfere, doing so in the least restrictive means.

But those challenges and questions will remain unanswered due to the governor's veto. But we are not left without answers. We may not be asking the question, but the larger culture appears to be telling religious individuals that we appreciate you, only insofar as you benefit us.

With a maverick mentality, the larger culture does whatever it wants, whenever it wants, because this is the land of the free and home of the brave. The popular refrain, often heard in music and from antagonistic soapboxes, is that 'only God can judge us.' To a certain extent, that is correct. God may be the only one who judges you, but he is not the only one who can love you. And sometimes love means enduring temporary discomfort for long term health. Love is yelling at your child to come back because they are playing in the street.

Come back.

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