ATLANTA — The Southern Baptist-identifying governor of Georgia has vetoed a religious liberty bill that provided conscience protections for pastors and non-profit faith-based organizations, stating that there is no need for such legislation, and that the protections provided under the First Amendment are sufficient.
“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 I and my family have been a part for all of our lives,” Gov. Nathan Deal said during a press conference on Monday.
As previously reported, legislators recently combined H.B. 757, also known as the Pastor Protection Act, with S.B. 284, the First Amendment Defense Act of Georgia. The Pastor Protection Act unanimously passed the Georgia House, finding support among Democrats and Republicans alike.
“No minister of the gospel or cleric or religious practitioner ordained or authorized to solemnize marriages, perform rites, or administer sacraments according to the usages of the denomination … in violation of his or her right to free exercise of religion under the Constitution of this state or the United States,” it reads in part.
The First Amendment Act of Georgia mandates that “[g]overnment shall not take any discriminatory action against wholly or partially on the basis that such person believes, speaks or acts in accordance with a sincerely-held religious belief or moral conviction that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman or that sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.”
It also states that faith-based non-profit organizations cannot be forced to hire those whose beliefs and behaviors conflict with the entity, and that such organizations have a right to decline to host objectionable events.
Adjustments had been made to the proposal prior to passage, such as the notation that no person should be compelled to attend a same-sex ceremony.
But Gov. Deal, who had already warned that he might veto the legislation, faced pressure from homosexual advocacy groups to reject the move. Additionally, according to reports, over 300 U.S. corporations and small businesses signed a petition in opposition of the bill. Microsoft, Google, Delta Airlines, Coca-Cola and Home Depot all claimed that the law would have an adverse affect on the economy.
On Monday, Deal said that he found the legislation unnecessary since Georgia does not have a public accommodations law like other states, and because he found the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to be sufficient.
“[The Founding Fathers] had previously proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence that man’s Creator had endowed all men ‘with certain unalienable rights,’ including ‘liberty,’ which embraces religious liberty,” he said. “They made it clear that those liberties were given by God and not by man’s government. Therefore, it was unnecessary to enumerate in statute or constitution what those liberties included.”
“If indeed our religious liberty is conferred by God and not by man-made government, we should heed the ‘hands-off’ admonition of the First Amendment to our Constitution,” the governor continued. “When legislative bodies attempt to do otherwise, the inclusions and omissions in their statutes can lead to discrimination, even though it may be unintentional. That is too great a risk to take.”
Deal expressed frustration with those who pressured him on both sides of the issue.
“Some of those in the religious community who support this bill have resorted to insults that question my moral convictions and my character. Some within the business community who oppose this bill have resorted to threats of withdrawing jobs from our state,” he said. “I do not respond well to insults or threats.”
“Georgia is a welcoming state filled with warm, friendly and loving people. Our cities and countryside are populated with people who worship God in a myriad of ways and in very diverse settings. Our people work side-by-side without regard to the color of our skin, or the religion we adhere to. We are working to make life better for our families and our communities. That is the character of Georgia. I intend to do my part to keep it that way,” Deal stated. “For that reason, I will veto HB 757.”
Deal attends First Baptist Church of Gainesville.