In 2016, the Georgia General Assembly passed a religious freedom bill that was pushed by a vociferous minority of the Republican base and would have had minimal impact on religious freedom in Georgia but would have risked considerable harm to Georgia’s economy owing to the almost unanimous opposition by the business sector. Add to that, Democrats at all levels of government came together to oppose the legislation.
There were similar Religious Freedom bills filed throughout the country in 2015 and 2016. As with Georgia, Democrats and progressives vehemently opposed them all. One of the most notable was the Religious Freedom Restoration Act signed by Governor Mike Pence of Indiana in 2015.
Unafraid of backlash, Governor Nathan Deal vetoed the Georgia measure. There were calls for an override from within his own party, and significant discontent in the Republican base. As Donald Trump gained popularity in 2016, passions that might have cooled over the issue were instead fanned so some parts of the base cemented a belief that Deal betrayed them.
In the 22 states which have such laws up to November 2022 they had little practical impact but have served as lovely music to the ears of a Republican base that never tires of a good social or cultural conflict hymnal.
The Music Stopped Last Week
On Friday, a trial court in Indiana found that Indiana’s law banning abortion violates the state Religious Freedom Restoration Act. For those keeping score at home, the statute that was attacked by Democrats and progressives like few other bills in recent memory, save for abortion restrictions themselves, is now being used (successfully, so far) by Democrats and progressives to block abortion bans at the state level.
Considering the Indiana ruling(and those sure to follow in other states), I wonder how the Georgia Republicans and many in the activist base who slammed Governor Deal for his veto are feeling now. Those who criticized him to no end in 2016 are probably relieved that a comparable bill isn’t on the books, since it would make it likely that a court would issue an injunction against Georgia’s abortion ban, allowing abortion clinics to remain open or reopen–even if only temporarily.
Prudent leadership is seldom flashy or spectacular, and it rarely gives the highs afforded by a strategy pursuing short-term political benefits, but it nearly always pays off in the end.
Even now, nearly six years after he left office, Georgians and, in particular, unborn Georgians are still benefiting from Governor Deal’s steady thoughtful leadership. It’s a lesson legislators in both parties would be wise to take to heart as they prepare for a new legislative session.
Learn more at The Volokh Conspiracy.