You could almost see this one coming from a country mile away. In the face of a huge media backlash and threats of economic boycotts, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal held a presser today to let everyone know that he would veto the religious liberty bill passed in the state legislature earlier this month. (Atlanta Journal Constitution)
Gov. Nathan Deal said he will veto the “religious liberty” bill that triggered a wave of criticism from gay rights groups and business leaders and presented him with one of the most consequential challenges he’s faced since his election to Georgia’s top office.
The measure “doesn’t reflect the character of our state or the character of its people,” the governor said Monday in prepared remarks. He said state legislators should leave freedom of religion and freedom of speech to the U.S. Constitution.
“Their efforts to purge this bill of any possibility that it would allow or encourage discrimination illustrates how difficult it is to legislate something that is best left to the broad protections of the First Amendment,” he said.
There are two different aspects to this move, only one of which is drawing any media attention. The big ticket item for liberals was the economic pressure being put on the Governor, with threats of unofficial sanctions coming from everyone from Disney to the NFL. The cost to the state, in the end, would be impossible to measure as a hypothetical, but it was probably significant enough to sway Deal’s thinking a bit. That aspect of the debate is unfortunate because I’m fairly sure we would all prefer to see our leaders acting on principle rather than responding to blackmail.
That doesn’t mean that this was the wrong call for Governor Deal… simply that I’d prefer to see a clear headed decision made in a vacuum rather than under this sort of blackmail environment. But even with that cloud hanging over the proceedings this was still the right thing to do. I’ll return to what I said a couple of weeks ago when I compared Georgia’s law to the recent bathroom privacy fight in North Carolina (where I wholeheartedly supported the law) and found the bill to be a bit much to digest.
Some religious liberty laws, when properly crafted, have gained my support even if boycotts or other punitive measures from the SJW may result. While I’m not personally opposed to gay marriage, I absolutely don’t believe that any pastor or other religious official should be forced to perform a ceremony which directly conflicts with their beliefs. I’ve gone a couple of steps further and defended the right of private vendors (such as bakers, photographers, florists or wedding planners) to refuse to be forced to participate in such a ceremony by contributing their services.
The Georgia law, however, appears to go several steps further and I can understand why the NFL and others might choose to vote with their wallets against it. The proposed legislation purportedly only applies to “faith based organizations and individuals” but that’s rather broad in scope to begin with. Who does that apply to? Was Hobby Lobby a “religious organization” in this context? Is a pizza shop?
Even those questions don’t get to the heart of the problem here, though. This laws speaks of allowing such entities to refuse to hire or to terminate employees whose “religious beliefs or practices or lack of either are not in accord with the faith-based organization’s sincerely held religious belief.” There’s a difference between being forced to participate in the marriage ceremony of a gay couple and simply allowing a gay individual (or even a straight one who openly supports such things) to work at your place of business. That crosses the line from protecting your own religious liberty to discriminating against someone else’s.
I understand the conservative party line on this particular fight and don’t expect the usual suspects to see it my way, but we need to establish reasonable rules of the road when it comes to the entire religious liberty question. I’ll happily support any proposals which protect the religious and free speech rights of conservatives when the SJW attempts to legislate the idea of You Will Be Made To Care. But we also have to be careful not to go overboard in the other direction. Just as a religious organization shouldn’t be forced to participate in a gay marriage ceremony if it conflicts with their beliefs, lines need to be drawn to identify when someone is not forcing you to participate. We can’t allow employers of any stripe to terminate employees simply for being gay when they aren’t trying to affect or disrupt the mission of the organization any more than we would allow them to fire a black worker simply based on their skin color.
This law trended too far in the direction of the latter example above, providing reasonable protections for religious liberty but leaving the door open for far more than that. It would never have survived a challenge in court going up the line anyway, so Nathan Deal just saved himself a very expensive headache and a battle he probably would have lost in the end anyway.