At a Capitol press conference this morning more than 30 religious leaders expressed their disappointment over Governor Deal’s veto of House Bill 757, and vowed to redouble their efforts to override the governor’s veto or to pass religious freedom legislation in an upcoming legislative session.
The group announced the results of a new poll conducted the week of March 21st by Clout Research. In that poll, 66% of likely voters agreed that Governor Deal should have signed the Free Exercise Protection Act, which was described as “a bill that provides for pastors and churches to exercise their religious freedoms in their service to their communities.” 79% of Republicans, 62% of independents, and 59% of Democrats strongly or somewhat disagreed that the bill should be signed.
In addition to tabulating support for HB 757, the survey asked respondents their opinion of Governor Deal. 44.9% felt he was doing a good or excellent job, while 49.7% thought he was doing a fair or poor job. A majority, at 47.2% though their local community was headed in the right direction, while 37.3% felt it was on the wrong track. 16.5% weren’t sure.
80.3% agreed that political correctness, defined as “where people are afraid of speaking truth because they may offend someone and may suffer some sort of retribution” as gone too far, while 13.6% disagreed. 6% were not sure. When asked whether respondents felt that government and the courts have become too intrusive into how Georgians live their lives, 79.5% agreed while 23.1% disagreed. The poll of 811 likely Georgia voters has a margin of error of 3.44%.
One of the speakers at the press conference was Rep. Wes Cantrell, who serves as youth minister at the First Baptist Church of Woodstock. Cantrell said that he has the utmost respect for Governor Deal. He described how over the last two years, there were ongoing negotiations in good faith between the Senate, House, and their leaders, in an effort to craft a bill that has no discrimination in it. “The bill explicitly states,” Cantrell said, “that it cannot be used for discrimination. However it’s been demagogued; it’s been lied about; there’s been deception. And so we lost the argument because the narrative from the press and from special interest groups and lobbyists have caused people to have a complete misunderstanding of the bill.”
Rep. Cantrell stated that he had been inundated with phone calls, emails and texts opposing the governor’s veto. He estimated that 80% of his district was in favor of the Free Exercise Protection Act, and his Cherokee County constituents could not understand how a Republican governor could stand against religious liberty.
Senator Marty Harbin of Tyrone said that the legislature needed to call a special session. Visibly angry, Harbin called for Lt. Governor Casey Cagle and Speaker David Ralston to have their representatives meet in a special session and deal with whatever it takes to get a religious liberty message through.
“We need to realize this,” Senator Harbin said, “If we crush religious freedom, we crush what made this country great. You can’t ask for God to bless America when you cut God out.”
Southern Regional Director of the Faith and Freedom Coalition Virginia Galloway summed up the position of the religious conservatives nicely. Quoting the words of John Paul Jones, Galloway said, “We have not yet begun to fight.”
Note: A previous version of this post reported Democratic support for signing HB 757 was 69%. It is actually 59%.