Georgia's religious liberty law could keep the Super Bowl out of Atlanta

This past week the state of Georgia finished nearly two long years of negotiations in the state legislature and passed a religious liberty bill which now awaits Governor Nathan Deal’s consideration. Since Deal had some input in the negotiations it’s not impossible that he’ll wind up signing it. The proposed law, however, has raised even more than the usual number of questions about this type of legislation. (Atlanta Constitution Journal)

The Georgia Legislature over the course of a few hours Wednesday unveiled changes to a controversial “religious liberty” bill and gave it final passage, setting off a collision course with corporate leaders and gay rights advocates over charges that it would legalize discrimination in Georgia.

House Bill 757 now goes to Gov. Nathan Deal for his signature to become law, a culmination of two years of debate, attacks, counter-attacks and emotional speeches from both supporters and opponents.

When introduced early this year, the bill originally promised pastors they could not be forced to perform a same-sex wedding ceremony. The Senate, however, added language last month that would have allowed faith-based organizations and individuals to opt out of serving couples — gay or straight — or following anti-discrimination requirements if they cited a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction regarding marriage.

When another law with some of the same provisions as we see here passed in Indiana there were outcries from liberal activists and businesses who feared antagonizing them, promising serious losses of revenue to the state over the perceived discrimination. It remains to be seen precisely how much it may cost them, but one gamer convention did cancel their festivities over it, so take that for what you will. In the case of Georgia, however, they may be looking at higher stakes since they’ve got a bid in on hosting the Super Bowl again and the NFL seems to be hinting this could affect their decision. (Washington Post)

The unintended consequences in a fight for “religious liberty” in Georgia keep adding up. The latest? It could cost Atlanta a Super Bowl bid.

The National Football League on Friday joined hundreds of businesses in weighing in on a bill Georgia lawmakers passed this week that would grant religious organizations the right to deny employment based on an individual’s religious beliefs or practices or deny use of facilities for events the organization finds objectionable. Opponents, including gay rights supporters and many large corporations, have described the bill as discriminatory…

“NFL policies emphasize tolerance and inclusiveness, and prohibit discrimination based on age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other improper standard,” spokesman Brian McCarthy said. “Whether the laws and regulations of a state and local community are consistent with these policies would be one of many factors NFL owners may use to evaluate potential Super Bowl host sites.”

Every time these battles involving gay marriage arise and wind up either in legislative battles or court cases it raises my hackles. As always, when you get into matters of faith and begin involving the government, the door is opened to all manner of problems. 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.

Some of the wording in other provisions of the bill are equally disturbing. This legislation could have been significantly trimmed down as I noted above and I’d have been happy to support it, but this could be a bridge too far. The people of the state are, of course, still free to go down this path if they wish (assuming it survives the inevitable court challenges) but the consequences will be a bit more understandable in this case.


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