Georgia Governor Nathan Deal today announced that he would veto controversial legislation that includes Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) language, among other religious freedom provisions. HB 757 also addressed religious discrimination in employment, and sought to protect clergy and houses of worship from having to officiate or host wedding ceremonies they found objectionable.
Opponents of the bill – which claimed many large corporations that conduct business in Georgia among them – argued the legislation represents an effort to protect discrimination based on sexual orientation. That fear seems to have swayed the Governor, despite analysis from others concluding that the bill would not have that impact.
Here is an excerpt from the Governor’s veto statement.
[A]s I have examined the protections this bill seeks to provide to religious organizations and people of faith I can find no examples that any of the things this bill seeks to protect us against have ever occurred in Georgia. It is also apparent that the cases being cited from other states occurred because those state had passed statutes that specifically protected their citizens from adverse actions based on their sexual orientation. Georgia has no such statutes.
HB 757 appeared in several forms during the recent session of the Georgia General Assembly. I had no objection to the “Pastor Protection Act” that was passed by the House of Representatives. The other versions of the bill, however, contained language that could give rise to state-sanctioned discrimination. I did have problems with that and made my concerns known as did many other individuals and organizations, including some within the faith-based community.
I appreciate the efforts of the General Assembly to address these concerns and my actions today in no way disparage their motivations on those who support this bill, Their efforts to purge this bill of any possibility that it will allow or encourage discrimination illustrates how difficult it is to legislate on something that is best left to the broad protections of the First Amendment to the United State Constitution.
As I’ve said before, I do not think we have to discriminate against anyone to protect the faith-based community in Georgia of which my family and I are a part of for all of our lives. Our actions on HB 757 are not just about protecting the faith-based community or providing a business-friendly climate for job growth in Georgia. This is about the character of our State and the character of its people. Georgia is a welcoming state filled with warm, friendly and loving people. Our cities and countryside are populated with people who worship God in a myriad of ways and in very diverse settings. Our people work side-by-side without regard to the color of our skin, or the religion we adhere to. We are working to make life better for our families and our communities. That is the character of Georgia. I intend to do my part to keep it that way.
For that reason, I will veto HB 757.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports, “It takes . . . a two-thirds majority in both chambers to override a veto — a threshold the bill failed to reach by one vote in the Senate and 16 in the House.”