‘Religious Liberty’: Now, Dirty Words
In a striking defeat to religious conservatives, Gov. Nathan Deal of Georgia said Monday that he would veto a bill intended to protect critics of same-sex marriage.
“In light of our history, I find it somewhat ironic that some in the religious community today feel that it is necessary for government to confer upon them certain rights and protections,” Mr. Deal said at the State Capitol, where he had faced intense pressure from the bill’s supporters and critics. “If indeed our religious liberty is conferred upon us by God, and not by man-made government, perhaps we should simply heed the hands-off admonition of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.”
Mr. Deal, a Republican in his second term, announced his decision less than two weeks after the General Assembly easily approved House Bill 757, which its supporters named the Free Exercise Protection Act. The vote tallies from March 16, when both the House of Representatives and the Senate considered the bill over a stretch of a few hours, indicate that Mr. Deal’s veto is likely to stand.
By rejecting the measure, Mr. Deal has most likely sidestepped the type of economic backlash that Indiana faced last year after its governor signed a so-called religious liberty measure. (After a national outcry, Indiana officials rewrote the law.) Hundreds of businesses and sports organizations, including Coca-Cola and the National Football League, had warned Mr. Deal, explicitly or implicitly, that a decision to support the bill could jeopardize economic opportunities in Georgia.
Ryan T. Anderson explains why this is such a big, uh, deal. The compromise bill that Gov. Deal vetoed was very weak — and still, he yielded:
This shows the lack of courage of many in the political class, and also highlights the extreme nature of the Left and the business community. To these groups, even mild religious liberty protections are unacceptable.
The economic threats made by big businesses to get the government to do their bidding at the expense of the common good are examples of a vicious form of cultural cronyism.
The Georgia religious freedom bill that Deal vetoed would have safeguarded clergy from having to officiate same-sex weddings, prevented faith-based organizations from being forced to hire someone who publicly undermines their mission, and prohibited the state government from discriminating against churches and their affiliated ministries because they believe marriage is between a man and a woman.
The bill that the Deal vetoed was the result of a series of compromises that significantly watered down the original version. It did not offer protections to bakers, florists and similar wedding professionals, and it adopted a very narrow definition of faith-based organizations, covering only churches, religious schools, and “integrated auxiliaries”—the same unacceptable definition used by the Obama administration to exclude the Little Sisters of the Poor.
More Ryan T. Anderson:
Most remarkably, Deal concluded that states simply shouldn’t pass any religious freedom laws, for religious freedom “is best left to the broad protections of the First Amendment.”
This is nonsensical.
There is a reason why President Bill Clinton signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act—and why it passed unanimously in the U.S. House of Representatives and with 97 votes in the U.S. Senate. There is a reason why over 20 states have adopted their own state religious freedom restoration acts, and why 11 more have constitutional religious liberty protections that provide a similar level of protection.
Religious Freedom Restoration Acts and other religious freedom protections are needed against our contemporary over-active progressive government.
You have to understand that there is no religious liberty that will be respected by LGBT activists and their Big Business allies — and the Republican Party is a fair-weather friend.
We have to fight as hard as we can to hold what little ground might be available to us, but orthodox Christians and other religious conservatives must face the fact that we are in trouble. The vise of the state is going to close tighter on religious schools and institutions, and it will be very hard to protect ourselves. When you can’t even get a feeble religious freedom bill passed into law in the state of Georgia, you know you are in trouble.
Read this “Prof. Kingsfield” entry from almost a year ago. It seems like forever and a day ago that I had the interview with an elite law professor who is deeply closeted as a Christian (his real name is not “Kingsfield”), and he offered sobering advice for orthodox Christians in the wake of the Indiana RFRA debacle. It is well worth reading. Here is a part I want to highlight today:
On the political side, Kingsfield said it’s important to “surrender political hope” — that is, that things can be solved through political power. Republicans can be counted on to block the worst of what the Democrats attempt – which is a pretty weak thing to rely on, but it’s not nothing. “But a lot of things can be done by administrative order,” he said. “I’m really worried about that.”
And on the cultural front? Cultural pressure is going to radically reduce orthodox Christian numbers in the years go come. The meaning of what it means to be a faithful Christian is going to come under intense fire, Kingsfield said, not only from outside the churches, but from within. There will be serious stigma attached to standing up for orthodox teaching on homosexuality.
“And if the bishops are like these Indiana bishops, where does that leave us?” he said. “We have a problem in the current generation, but what I really worry about is what it means to transmit the faith to the next generation.”
“A lot of us will be able to ‘pass’ if we keep our mouths shut, but it’s going to be hard to tell who believes what,” Kingsfield said. “In [my area], there’s a kind of secret handshake that traditional Christians use to identify ourselves to each other when we meet. Forming those subterranean, catacomb church networks is not easy, but it’s terribly vital right now.”
“Your blog is important for us who feel alone where we are, because it let’s us know that there are others who feel this way,” Kingsfield said. “My wife says you should stop blogging and write your Benedict Option book right now. There is such a need for it. My hope for this book is that it will help Christians like us meet and build more of the networks that are going to carry us through.”
Kingsfield said he and his wife send their children to a classical Christian school in their area. “I can’t tell you how happy that makes me,” he said. “Studying the past is so important. If you have an understanding of where we came from [as a culture], you can really see how insane we have gone.”
Through the classical Christian school community, he said, he and his wife have met believers from other traditions who are very sympathetic to the threat to all orthodox Christians, whether they are Catholic, Protestant, or Orthodox.
“We have to get to know them better. We have to network with them. Our kids have to grow up with those kids, even if it means some driving, some traveling, arranging joint vacations,” Kingsfield said.
Read the whole thing. I know a lot of you have thought me alarmist, but as you see leading Republicans like the governor of Georgia — Georgia! — caving in to threats from major corporations, the future for orthodox Christians is taking shape before our eyes. If you think Rep. Paul Ryan, Sen. Mitch McConnell, or the next Republican president, if we have one, will be a profile in courage compared to Gov. Deal, you are dreaming. The only thing we can hope for is that they would appoint judges that will be more sympathetic to us than Democratic appointees. But as the late, great Antonin Scalia warned, the elite law schools have already gone over.
In fact, law firms have been declining to take cases on the opposite side of LGBT interests, either because they see those clients as bigots, or they are terrified of losing other clients (this has happened, according to lawyer friends). A law firm could defend accused pornographers, pimps, drug dealers, what have you, and face no stigma within the legal profession. But not orthodox Christians. Think about that. Michael McConnell, who teaches law at Stanford, told the NYT last year, “The level of sheer desire to crush dissent is pretty unprecedented.”
The level of sheer desire to crush dissent is pretty unprecedented. It’s true. The LGBT activists, the media, academia, and Big Business have made “religious liberty,” once a bedrock American value, into a code word for bigotry. And they will not stop at anything. Today’s alarmists are tomorrow’s realists. There will be no peace. The sooner you get that learned, and get started building up your family, your networks, and your institutions, the more resilient we will all be when we are really put to the test.
That day is coming, and a lot sooner than many of us think. Prepare.
UPDATE: Erick Erickson, who lives in Georgia, offers his remarks. Excerpt:
On top of that, the Governor really wants evangelicals to help him with his education reform effort. I sat in on a meeting last year where the Governor talked to faith leaders in the black community, many who also supported this legislation.
The veto of HB757 [the religious liberty bill] means the Governor is going to see his remaining agenda hijacked and HB757 will probably next year be HB1. The issue will not only not go away, but if the Governor remains recalcitrant on the issue, it is going to become the biggest issue in the 2018 Republican gubernatorial primary.
What conservatives in Georgia are now seeing is that big businesses have the ear of Governor Deal in a way small businesses and churches do not. They are also seeing that no compromise can be had on the religious liberty issue. The evangelicals actually reduced the impact of HB757 by making it only apply to non-profit religious organizations and, at Governor Deal’s request, included specific language prohibiting invidious discrimination.
To have Governor Deal use rhetoric by opponents of religious liberty legislation — rhetoric that actually ignores key components of the legislation — was disappointing.
UPDATE.2: I think North Carolina’s bill, signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory, went too far in restricting LGBT rights. I also think that had it been as puny as Georgia’s, it would have drawn the same reaction from activists and Big Business.