The recent history of trying to get a religious liberty bill passed in Georgia reads like a Greek tragedy or some Alford Hitchcock iconic thriller with a bad ending.
Our forefathers would be appalled that some of our legislators balked at the idea of passing a religious liberty bill. In addition, the Governor’s veto of the bill passed by legislators in March 2016 is the kind of bluster that prompted the nation’s founders to leave Europe in the first place.
The citizens of Georgia will have an opportunity to go to the polls next year to elect new legislators and a governor. Donald Trump’s election as president last year has changed the political landscape of the country. His promise to “drain the swamp” in Washington resonated with the American people. Ergo, candidates who fail to see the groundswell of voters in Georgia who want to “drain the swamp” in Atlanta are living in a fantasy world.
Mike Griffin, Georgia Baptists’ Public Affairs Representative at the Georgia State Capitol, recently got verification that all four Republican gubernatorial candidates have signed a Religious Freedom Restoration Act pledge.
The signing came after the Georgia GOP decided against imposing a litmus test on “religious liberty” legislation for the Republican candidates for governor. The party adopted a resolution that supported the controversial measure without including a pledge for gubernatorial candidates to back it.
However, realizing the importance of the pledge to the majority of Georgians, the four candidates signed it of their own accord. The pledge reads: “If elected Governor, I will support the Legislature in its efforts to pass an uncompromised, state-level RFRA that mirrors the federal RFRA. I will sign such a bill if it passes, protecting First Amendment rights, particularly the Free Exercise of Religion.”
The four candidates who have signed the pledge are Brian Kemp, Hunter Hill, Casey Cagle, and Michael Williams. These men are in step with the 30 states that have passed measures or enacted statutes that protect religious liberty, including all states contiguous to Georgia.
We have yet to hear if the Democrat gubernatorial candidates will sign a similar pledge, but we can hope and pray they will do so.
The opposition to RFRA legislation claim that religious liberty will undermine nondiscrimination laws, but the failure to pass HB 757 in 2016 has already resulted in discrimination against people of faith.
Eric Stirgus, reporting for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, wrote that Chike Uzuegbunam, a student at Gwinnett College, distributed fliers sharing his Christian faith and spoke with other students one day last summer near the library on the Lawrenceville campus.As a response school officials told Uzuegbunam he couldn’t continue to do what he was doing in that area.
The First Amendment of The U.S. Constitution protects freedom of speech, but now there are school officials and others who want to restrict when and where people can share their faith.
Uzuegbunam is not the only one who has been warned about sharing his faith in Georgia. In fact the list of those whose First Amendment rights have been restricted because they have dared to be a Christian witness grows constantly.
A recent report from the Public Religion Research Institute and Brookings indicates that discrimination against Christians is as big a problem as discrimination against other groups, including African Americans and minorities.
I am confident that people of faith will not stay home and fail to vote in November 2018. The candidates need to be aware of that.