Governor Nathan Deal outlined his vision for Georgia in his State of the State address on Jan. 11. He based his speech on the lyrics to Johnny Mercer’s 1944 song titled, “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate The Positive.”
Throughout his address he repeatedly referred to his agenda as “positive” and implied that anyone else’s agenda could be classified as “negative.”
He concluded his remarks by urging his hearer to “accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, latch on to the affirmative, and not waste time and resources messing with Mr. In-Between.”
It may be pure speculation to guess what the governor meant by “Mr. In-Between,” but I am guessing he would like to put any religious liberty legislation in that category.
In the summer of 2015 Governor Deal told me in a conversation in his office that he would like to see religious liberty legislation passed early in the 2016 legislative session in order to focus on other issues.
I took the governor’s word for it. But after the Senate and House of Representatives passed the religious liberty legislation, he vetoed it. To say I was disappointed would be an understatement.
I have always thought Governor Deal to be a fair and honorable man. And, I have never thought of him as being an opponent of religious freedom. In fact, he voted for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 1993 when a United States Congressman.
The Atlanta Journal Constitution attempted to explain why the governor vetoed the bill in an article by Greg Bluestein last April, saying, “The two-term Republican has been besieged by all sides over the controversial measure, and his office has received thousands of emails and hundreds of calls on the debate. The tension was amplified by a steady stream of corporate titans who urged him to veto the bill – and threatened to pull investments from Georgia if it became law.”
Are elected public servants supposed to be more responsive to big businesses, special interest groups, and lobbyists than the electorate – those who put them in office? Do we really have a representative government?
Perhaps the governor simply doesn’t want to have to spend any time or capital on a religious liberty issue this year. Maybe to him it’s just a peripheral, a tertiary, an inconsequential issue at this point – a Mr. In-Between kind of issue.
He must have concluded that when he vetoed the bill last year, he swept it under the rug, signed its death knell, and put an end to the controversy it created.
Georgia Baptists are impassioned about religious liberty. We always have been. Last year just days before the governor announced he would veto HR 757 a statewide poll revealed that 66 percent of Georgia voters wanted Governor Deal to sign the Free Exercise Protection Act that would protect pastors and churches as they exercise their religious freedom in service to their communities.
I believe there are multiple people, including a goodly number of legislators in Georgia, who would be far more amenable to Governor Deal’s vision for Georgia if he were to accentuate the positive regarding religious liberty. In other words I would urge the governor to make religious liberty a priority in order to find favor with Georgia Baptists on his own agenda items.
Contrary to Governor Deal’s statement that religious liberty has not been threatened in Georgia, there have been numerous examples to prove otherwise. He needs only to look at his own state government to find an example. Dr. Eric Walsh, a renowned public health expert was terminated from his position with the Georgia Department of Public Health because of sermons he preached on issues ranging from homosexuality to evolution.
Furthermore, none of the 31 states that have some kind of religious liberty bill or protection has been sued by anyone claiming discrimination.
The governor’s receptivity to a religious liberty bill would help redeem his tarnished legacy created by his veto last April.
I predict if this issue is not dealt with in this legislative session it will become the major issue when the 2018 election year dawns. It will not go away. Georgia Baptists will not quit. (See the Georgia Baptist resolution on protecting religious liberty).
Bear Bryant, legendary coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide football team, once stated, “Never quit. It is the easiest cop-out in the world. Set a goal and don’t quit until you attain it. When you do attain it, set another goal, and don’t quit until you reach it. Never quit.”
We will take Coach Bryant’s counsel seriously. We will continue to be passionate about this matter. Don’t call me Mr. In-Between.