The Politics Of Religious Freedom

This week’s Courier Herald column:

Another year is upon us where the end of the Georgia General Assembly coincides with Holy Week. Legislators should wrap up their annual business about the time the calendar turns to Good Friday. The difference between this year and last is that this time, legislators will leave town with a “religious freedom” bill sitting on Governor Deal’s desk awaiting his signature – or veto.

The bill is a combination of several previous proposals covering multiple concepts, yet ultimately changes little. A measure passed by the House that would reinforce the autonomy of religious services from government intrusion was grafted with a more controversial one that had passed the Senate. While much of this bill codifies existing state and federal law, it leaves any local ordinances (think City of Atlanta) to the interpretation of courts to see if the Government has met the burden for intruding into one’s exercise of religion.

There’s little in the bill that some evangelicals had been demanding: specifically, the ability of a shopkeeper to decline to render goods and services to customers they find objectionable. There’s just enough in there to raise concerns of the LGBT community that the bill is aimed at reducing their protections. We’re left with a bill that upsets activists on both sides of this issue but changes little.

This is, however, an election year and legislators will not have to return to their districts and face an angry public while trying to explain why they wouldn’t vote to protect freedom of religion. The cost is a dedicated public relations campaign that is chipping away at Georgia’s images of being “too busy to hate” as well as the number one place to do business.

The process has become one all too familiar with Republican politics since the infusion of Pat Robertson Republicans. Those who can position themselves as the most conservative – in this case as the “most Christian” – gain an upper hand with a standing pool of activists by pushing legislation that may never pass and changes little in practicality.

A distinguished service medal should be given to Columbus Senator Josh McKoon, who not only has made religious freedom a multi-year crusade, but this year tripled down by proposing a constitutional amendment to make English the official language of Georgia (even though this is already the law of the state), as well as a term limit to the Speaker of the House.

Take the politics of the first two bills out of this discussion for a moment and ask yourself why would a Senator drop a resolution to change the terms of how the opposing chamber elects their leader? More specifically, would this Senator be trying to convey his ability to get bills passed? More likely, it should be viewed as a petulant temper tantrum against a designated and needed enemy.

The battle is one made for media coverage. The benefit is free media to establish statewide name ID.

The cost of this free media is one that embroils a business community currently held hostage between competing interests. While one can argue that the protests over HB 757 have been disproportionate relative to the merits of the bill, they were not unexpected. Senator McKoon seems to welcome the fissure, asking his twitter followers to retweet his message “if you think civil liberties, including the right of free exercise of religion, are more important than the Super Bowl.”

The cost of this trophy may be a Super Bowl, with collateral damage to Georgia’s convention and tourism industry, film industry, and emerging high tech community. He acknowledges as much with his tweet. With populism supplanting many of the tenants of conservatism within the GOP ranks, being anti-business can be a good future selling point too.

There are other costs involved, however. The GOP’s alignment with evangelical politics – often weaponizing Christianity to achieve political goals – seems to be taking a toll on both those self identifying as Christian as well as those who identify as a Republican. The more a party chooses to appeal to Pharisees the fewer women at the well feel welcome. Matthew Sheffield has written an extensive article for The American Conservative outlining the challenges this raises for the GOP.

The net result is that a series of short term victories can be good for a candidate – maybe even for those of the same party. But longer term, there are fewer and fewer among us who are identifying as Republican which is a political problem. The much bigger problem is that fewer and fewer are identifying as religious and or Christian. The unfortunate irony is that the laws passed to protect religion by the majority may be needed to protect the same folks as a future minority – partially fueled by the politics used to make these laws possible.

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The Right News Network | No, the veto of Georgia’s “religious freedom” bill doesn’t mean churches are in dangerDave Bearseaugusta52ScottNAtlantaBenevolus Recent comment authors
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John Konop
John Konop

Excellent post that really captured the issue!

CoastalCat
CoastalCat

There is a fork sticking out of the GOP. Years of hateful rhetoric and narrowing of interest to the most crazy, right wing religious zealots have done it in. The rise of Trump confirms the GOP is composed of the uneducated, the intolerant, the xenophobic. I honestly do not see a future forward. Perhaps there is a young GOP leader, not on the current national radar, that can construct a new party, built on financial soundness, limited corporate control of politics, a return to the environmental policies of Teddy Roosevelt, and an acknowledgement that women have minds and do not… Read more »

Ingrid
Ingrid

Excellent article, thank you.

blakeage80
blakeage80

After this session I am convinced that there is no way for the these two interests to be reconciled. Either a Christian baker will be made to make a wedding cake for an abominable ceremony or the engaged gay couple will be hatefully discriminated against.

It all really does prove John Adams right. “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

Benevolus
Benevolus

I still think that if you want to be a ‘Christian baker” (for example), advertise yourself like that and stay within that model and no one can make you make a non-Christian cake. If you are a bookstore that only sells Bibles, you can’t be made to sell Korans, or chain-link fencing either for that matter. But if you are just going to be a bookstore or a baker, you can’t pick and choose who you will serve based on their demographic. I think you can even be a ‘Caucasian culture’ store or an ‘Asian market’. If that’s what you… Read more »

blakeage80
blakeage80

That may work until a ‘gay christian’ decides to visit, then we’d have courts trying to decide which theology was legal permissible.

Are you working on a Caucasian culture store? I envision it to be some combination of Whole Foods and Crate and Barrel with a small World Market section.

Will Kremer
Will Kremer

Why the quotations around gay Christian? Surely you aren’t insinuating homosexuality and Christianity are mutually exclusive.

John Konop
John Konop

You should ask Ted Cruz since he defends people who want to genocide gays.

blakeage80
blakeage80

I put quotes around it because I was using a broad, kind of lazy, term on a comment forum. Instead of detailing my theological position on homosexuality, I opted for short and sweet. I believe people generally know what I meant.

Benevolus
Benevolus

I suppose lawsuits are always a possibility but if you are consistent in your application of your business rules then you should be OK. But this is way too complicated for me. Like can you have a KKK store that never allows Blacks? I doubt it. Like most things legal, you can make rules that cover 90% of the cases, but it seems there will always be an edge that can be tested. In business we have an 80/20 ‘rule’ that says you spend 20% of your time doing 80% of your revenue, and the other 80% is spent on… Read more »

Saltycracker
Saltycracker

When the black bbq places reject whites, that’s serious and the south will rise again…

Will Durant
Will Durant

Which Federal or State code can you cite that could currently be used in Georgia as a basis to sue a baker for refusing to bake a ‘gay cake’?

Robbie
Robbie

None. That protection already exists in Georgia.

LTWill
LTWill

I love the term “Weaponized Christianity.”

I don’t think Deal is going to sign this bill. He seems to have reached the end of his career as an elected official. I’d be more nervous if he was mulling a Senate run.

John Konop
John Konop

I agree, no way Gov Deal wants the headache Gov Pence got in Indiana. No one wants to be the governor known for running off jobs. You saw how fast Pence switched his position…..

Saltycracker
Saltycracker

Either our legislators are incompetent or very clever. Clever in that they have taken eyes off the serious business we elected them to handle.

They can now rush self serving legislation through in the next couple days, pay, pensions, commissions, unique items for F.O.O.L.S. (Friends of organized lobbyist subsidizers).

Will Durant
Will Durant

I said this last year as well. Josh McKoon could not cite a single Georgia case where someone had their first amendment rights infringed and needed special rights assigned by the State. That didn’t stop him from advancing this agenda pushed by political hypocrite Ralph Reed, who both the Republicans and Baptists should be distancing themselves from, to advance his own populist agenda. BTW, McKoon also helped introduce legislation today that would hold a special election rather than let a Governor appoint a US Senator in the event that one could not finish out their term. This is seen as… Read more »

John Konop
John Konop

Will,

Jesus equals love, yet Sen Josh McKoon uses Christianity to promote hate. Irronically, Josh is the classic example of what Jesus warned us all about!

Nathan
Nathan

I’m a Christian, and I’m a Republican, but I can’t be for this bill. I have a vested interest in the blossoming high tech industry, and I want Georgia’s economy to expand. I love this state and want to see it and her citizens prosper. This bill looks like a solution in search of a problem, and I believe it will do more harm in the long run.

I hope Governor Deal vetoes it.

Benevolus
Benevolus

Too many changes, too late. They may have effectively gutted it, but who knows? And if they did what is the point of going forward? If they didn’t, veto it!

ScottNAtlanta
ScottNAtlanta

First…last time I checked this nation of ours was 80+% Christian…so it seems highly unlikely a majority of that size is being persecuted. So, spare me the outrage. My question is why these representatives hate Georgia? That is the obvious conclusion seeing what already looks like a groundswell of bad will toward the state from sectors that provide a hell of a lot of jobs and revenue to the state. Josh McKoon is thinking about one thing…advancing Josh McKoon, which just shows the pathetic human being he is. If he wants to find religion (and be right with the Lord)…he… Read more »

augusta52
augusta52

Scott, I believe Senator McKoon is Catholic, so he has “found religion.” The Catholic Church doesn’t happen to conform to the “Gospel of St. Trendy” so popular among the Left. But in any event, I did not know you were the judge as to whether someone is headed for the pearly gates or the fiery furnace…

ScottNAtlanta
ScottNAtlanta

As a nonpracticing Jew…I’m rather surprised you didnt see the (what I considered) heavily sarcastic tone that was implied. What was not implied was that Josh McKoon is thinking only of Josh McKoon and not whats best for GA and the citizens there of.
(as Jewish people dont believe in hell…I would say I could be just as partial as anyone else in calling it out though)

Dave Bearse
Dave Bearse

North of 90% of General Assembly Republicans approve of this legislation.

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The Right News Network | No, the veto of Georgia’s “religious freedom” bill doesn’t mean churches are in danger

[…] facts of the case, and what the bill actually did. Charlie “Icarus Pundit” Harper writes at Georgiapol.com how the vetoed bill really didn’t do anything which wasn’t already on […]