On May 3, 2016, Governor Nathan Deal completed the task of either vetoing or signing into law those bills passed during the 2016 legislative session. Your Public Affairs Ministry was monitoring approximately 36 bills covering five major issues. From the standpoint of Georgia Baptists, there is reason to rejoice but also reason to be disappointed. Here’s how it looked after the “dust settled.”
We rejoice that we were able to stop three very dangerous pieces of gambling legislation. For years now, the horse racing industry has sought to bring in the dangers of pari-mutuel betting to Georgia. Once again they failed. On top of horse racing came the dreaded potential of casino gambling and all the promises of a utopia of economic prosperity. They failed.
If horse racing and casino gambling were not enough, the daily sports fantasy industry took a stab at making their predatory gambling a legal identity in our state. They, too, failed after the attorney general ruled that their operation was not a game of skill, but rather gambling.
There were at least twelve pieces of gambling legislation introduced during the two-year legislative cycle that ended this year! There have been reports that around 35 lobbyists were hired and untold tens of thousands of dollars were spent trying to convince legislators that expanding gambling was necessary for our state. Your prayers and support helped prevent their dream from coming true!
We rejoice that we were able stop the cultivation and recreational use of marijuana in our state. The Georgia Baptist Mission Board has not taken a position on the use of cannabis oil, which is allowed to treat various illnesses approved by the state. The Georgia Baptist Mission Board in 2015 passed a resolution opposing cultivation of the plant on the basis that it can lead to the legalization of more marijuana and its recreational use. No legislation regarding any expansion of marijuana passed this year. There have been a total of eight pieces of marijuana legislation over the past two years.
We rejoice with the news that a number of prolife measures were passed this year. Legislation was introduced that allows a woman to prevent legitimation of parental rights of her rapist if a child was conceived during the assault. There was also legislation passed that created a state grant for pregnancy resource centers (PRCs) to receive state funding that could be used to expand their facility, make repairs, purchase ultrasound machines, etc.
There was also legislation introduced that requires the Department of Public Health (DPH) to provide 60 days’ notice prior to making any changes to the Physicians Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment (POLST) form. This bill protects the vulnerable, elderly, and infirm in Georgia. Finally, there was legislation that required juvenile courts to report how many minors have requested waivers for parental notification to obtain an abortion. This was a very good year for passing prolife legislation!
We rejoice that a measure that would have extended the hours of Sunday alcohol sales died in committee and therefore never made it to the floor. The bill, known as the “Sunday Brunch Bill,” would have allowed alcohol to be sold staring at 10:30 a.m. instead of 12:30 p.m.. As the law now stands no alcohol may be sold on Sunday without the citizens in that municipality voting to approve it.
We are disappointed that after three years of fighting for extended religious liberty protection, Governor Deal vetoed The Free Exercise Protection Act bill. This legislation sought to combine the main components of three religious liberty bills: Pastor Protection Act, state-level First Amendment Defense Act, and the state-level Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
This compromise legislation did not include any direct connection to regulating businesses and government and included no wrongful discrimination. It only covered pastors, churches, faith-based organizations, private schools and colleges, and adoption agencies against adverse government action for their beliefs on marriage. It offered people of faith the protection they needed and deserved, particularly in the times which we are now finding ourselves.
Included in the vetoed legislation was language for a state-level Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which would have allowed all Georgia citizens the added court protection that was restored in the original legislation passed on the federal level back in 1993. This protection added back the strict scrutiny test in defending citizens against government overreach in the practicing of their deeply held religious beliefs.
The RFRA requires that the government have a compelling interest in denying your rights to practice your faith. This test is used in freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and freedom of speech. It is not afforded to the citizens of the State of Georgia.
For over 20 years and in over 30 states this protection has been given to other Americans. In all of those other states there has not been one single case of discrimination caused. The LGBT activists, liberal media, and corporate global giants have convinced Governor Deal that protecting religious liberty rights is somehow discriminatory! It is apparent that we are living in a day when there are those who simply want to silence any opposition to the sexual revolution that is taking place in our country.
This is not the time to sit idly by and watch our rights to practice our faith in the public square fade away! We must redouble our efforts to communicate to our churches and our government leaders just how important our rights are. We as Christian citizens must get engaged in the political process as salt and light. We must pray, register to vote, run for office, and attend forums and rallies while there is time to make a difference.
Certainly we “lost big” when it comes to religious liberty, but we did see major wins in the House and the Senate, by passing religious liberty legislation on to the Governor’s Desk. We were also able to pass good prolife legislation and stop major predatory gambling legislation!
We must not give up. It is never wrong to do the right thing and it is never right to do the wrong thing! God is our help and strength, we will never give up!