The Atlanta Journal Constitution announced yesterday that the “’Religious liberty’ fight returns to Georgia Capitol.” It is true that on Tuesday, Senator Marty Harbin filed Senate Bill 233. But according to the Atlanta newspaper, the bill “stops far short of the wide-ranging ‘religious liberty’ bill [Governor] Deal vetoed in 2016.”
In fact, Harbin’s bill simply says the language in the 1993 federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) would apply in Georgia. States need to have their own RFRAs, because in 1997 the Supreme Court ruled in City of Boerne v Flores that the federal RFRA did not apply to state and local government interference in religious exercises.
Twenty-one states have responded, with another 11 states having similar protections under state court precedent. RFRAs are needed in the remaining states to protect people whose sincere beliefs are in danger of being unnecessarily burdened by the government.
RFRAs give courts a tried-and-true balancing test for weighing a person’s sincerely-held religious beliefs against legitimate state interests, but RFRAs do not necessarily dictate outcomes.
Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran, who was terminated for writing a book conveying his views on evolution and human sexuality, and Georgia Public Health Doctor Eric Walsh, who was also terminated because of sermons he preached from the pulpit of his church, are just two examples of government intrusion into the lives of individuals sincerely practicing their faith.
When the federal RFRA was passed in 1993 and signed into law by President Bill Clinton, a coalition of groups from across the religious, political, and legal spectrum from Southern Baptists to the American Civil Liberties Union came together to support it.
The federal RFRA was introduced into the House by then-U.S. Representative Charles “Chuck” Schumer, a Democrat from New York. Schumer, U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy (Democrat from Massachusetts) and then-State Senator Barack Obama are just a few examples of political leaders who have voted for a RFRA at the state or federal levels.
In fact, 97 out of 100 senators voted for the 1993 RFRA. It passed in the U.S. House of Representatives without opposition when Governor Nathan Deal was a first-year congressman.
So, what has changed? Has truth changed? Have religious liberties become less valuable? Are religious liberties less vulnerable? Does it matter if the government reviews a pastor’s sermons to build a case against him? Should a public servant be terminated for expressing his religious convictions in a book? Why should it be so difficult to get a state RFRA passed in Georgia?
In truth, it should not be difficult at all – at least if the senators and representatives truly represent their constituents and the Governor will be consistent with his convictions of the past. Last spring a survey in Georgia showed that 66 percent of the people in the state favored a religious liberty bill while 27 percent were opposed to it and seven percent were “not sure.”
The same survey revealed that 79 percent of Republicans agreed religious liberty legislation was needed. There were 62 percent of Independents and 59 percent of Democrats who agreed such legislation was needed in Georgia.
Senator Harbin and the 18 other senators who are co-sponsors of Senate Bill 233 are taking a firm, courageous stand and spending a lot of their political capital by doing so. We must stand with them.
If you like motivational quotes, here are some that will light your fire:
“Practice like you’ve never won; perform like you’ve never lost.”
“A man who won’t die for something is not fit to live.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” – Thomas Edison
“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” – Walt Disney
“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” – Arthur Ashe
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Never, never, never give up.” – Winston Churchill
However, the Apostle Paul said, “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”
If you are an advocate for religious liberty, and you should be, call Governor Deal’s office (404-656-1776), Lt. Governor Cagle’s office (404-656-5030), Speaker Ralston’s office (404-656-5020) and your state senator and state representative. Graciously, but firmly, urge them to lend their support to Senate Bill 233.