The Georgia legislative session for 2017 begins on Jan. 9. I am praying it will be a positive and productive session for our legislators, resulting in great good for our state. We have some wonderful men and women who are good and responsible public servants and can be trusted to represent us well.
However, many people have become skeptical of politics in general. Cal Thomas, American syndicated columnist, pundit, and author, said, “One of the reasons people hate politics is that truth is rarely a politician’s objective. Election and power are.”
Grouch Marx, comedian, film, and television star, stated, “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly, and apply the wrong remedies.”
Milton Friedman, American economist and Nobel Prize winner, commented, “If you put the federal government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in five years there’d be a shortage of sand.”
Because of the prevailing perception about politics, there are those who believe the populace is safer and better served when the legislature is not in session.
Consequently, when the legislative session begins some are prone to refer to an American idiom originating from the old radio program, “The Shadow.”
Frank Readick, Jr. introduced the program by saying, “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?” None of us can anticipate what will happen when the session opens, but perhaps, “The Shadow knows!” At least, that was the answer to Readick’s question on September 26, 1937 when the radio program started.
In her recent column, Sue Ella Deadwyler, Capitol correspondent for Georgia Insight, stated, “So, what’s new for 2017? Nobody knows the future, but if it goes according to the state constitution, the Georgia General Assembly will convene … on the second Monday of the New Year. That’s when the new crop of senators and representatives, along with incumbents, take the oath of office to start their new two-year terms.
“Twenty-eight new legislators will become part of the 180-member House of Representatives. Fourteen new legislators are Democrats and 14 are Republicans, so the make-up of the House will be 61 Democrats and 119 Republicans, meaning Republicans are one seat short of a two-thirds majority in the House. But that’s nothing new for the House.
“The 56-member Senate has five new members, 18 Democrats and 38 Republicans, which is a two-thirds majority for Republicans.
“New bills and new resolutions will pour in during the session, but eager legislators began pre-filing new bills and re-cycling old ones on November 15, giving us a taste of what’s coming in the New Year.”
Many Georgia Baptists are wondering what will happen in the upcoming legislative session regarding religious liberty legislation. Last year a religious liberty bill was passed by both the Senate and House of Representatives, but vetoed by Governor Nathan Deal, a devastating blow to hundreds of thousands of people of faith across the state.
In the last weeks of 2016 House Speaker David Ralston joined hosts Bill Nigut and Jim Galloway for a conversation on Georgia Public Broadcasting’s “Political Rewind.” There, the discussion turned to the issue of religious liberty. Ralston said he thought the U.S. Congress should take up the issue of religious liberty.
Speaker Ralston specifically stated, “I think it is a federal issue and I am very content to let them deal with it. I don’t hear much discussion about it. There was a lot of concern right after the period of the veto, but I think as people have stepped back and taken a look at it they realize that it is a little more complex or has more dimensions than you might suspect when you flash up the words ‘religious freedom.’”
Is it possible David Ralston has forgotten the Religious Freedom Restoration Act introduced by Charles Schumer and passed by the House and Senate and signed into law by President Bill Clinton on November 16, 1993?
However, in 1997 the Supreme Court ruled the federal RFRA had no enforcement power over individual states. That is precisely why more than half the states in the U.S. and all states contiguous to Georgia have passed state religious liberty legislation.
On Jan. 3 the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported State Senator Josh McKoon is not about to give up his fight for religious liberty. McKoon and Representative Sam Teasley were Georgia Baptists’ Legislators of the Year in 2015.
McKoon, who may likely be squeezed out of his position as chairman of the senate judiciary committee that oversees civil matters, said, “My public service has always been about ideas, not titles. My work will continue regardless of the committee assignments I receive.”
Jim Galloway, writing for the Atlanta Journal Constitution, has described Mckoon as “an affable, curly-haired lawyer who is both extremely polite and extremely uncompromising” and says he has “become inconvenient.”
It is almost assured that a religious liberty bill will be introduced in both the House and Senate again in 2017. Georgia Baptists and other faith groups will rise to the challenge again to press for meaningful legislation to protect religious freedom in Georgia.
Mike Griffin, Public Affairs Representative for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, has stated, “Georgia Baptists are going to remain vigilant in our efforts to defend religious liberty! All Georgians are deserving of the same protections other states are afforded through legislation such as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as passed by Congress in 1993. We intend to work diligently with those legislators who want to provide protections that are guaranteed by the First Amendment. We will never give up!”
Why must there be an adversarial relationship between the government and the church? We could do so much good if we worked together in education, social matters, economics, health, public safety, and so many other issues. However, I am afraid in some ways the political establishment looks at the church as “inconvenient” too.
However, until the religious liberty issue is secured in Georgia it is certain that Georgia Baptists will not go quietly into the night.