The Truth Behind Georgia's Religious Freedom Bill


You can't turn on the news in Atlanta these days without hearing about somebody urging Georgia Governor Nathan Deal to veto House Bill 757, the long-debated bill (also known as the Free Exercise Protection Act) that protects religious freedom and which passed the state legislature this month. (And everybody urges Deal to veto the bill -- nobody suggests or asks; they just urge.)

The religious liberty fight has raged in Georgia since at least 2014, with bills scuttled during the two previous legislative sessions. Governor Deal asked the legislature to make certain compromises to ensure his signature on the bill, and now he is sitting on the bill and thinking of vetoing it under pressure.

Organizations like the NFL and companies like Salesforce have threatened to take their business away from the state over this supposedly discriminatory legislation. The funny thing is, the people doing the urging clearly haven't read the bill.

The bulk of HB 757 applies to what the legislation calls "faith based organizations," protecting pastors, churches, and religious non-profits from violating their beliefs and consciences when it comes to hiring practices and administering religious sacraments and activities. For example, I work at a church, and the bill protects us from civil and criminal reprisal if we refuse to conduct a same-sex wedding, allow a non-Christian group to host an event at our facility, or hire someone who doesn't believe the way we believe.

It's not permission to discriminate at all. In fact, the bill contains language -- at Nathan Deal's request -- that prevents discrimination:

Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to: permit invidious discrimination on any grounds prohibited by federal or state law...

What's more, very little of HB 757 applies directly to privately held businesses. One provision prevents any entity from requiring a business to open seven days a week, while another requires businesses to make accommodations for people of faith to have a day of rest and/or to attend services of their choice.

Still, the NFL has issued its threat:

“NFL policies emphasize tolerance and inclusiveness, and prohibit discrimination based on age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other improper standard,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy wrote in the statement. “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.”

Over at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Kyle Wingfield points out that:

This possibility, to which the bill’s opponents have pointed as the kind of damage it would do to Georgia’s economy, is instead a perfect example of how debate surrounding the bill has devolved into misinformation, posturing and hypocrisy.

Why? Because the two states that are home to the other cities competing against Atlanta for the 2019 and 2020 games, Florida and Louisiana, already have pretty much the same laws Georgia is considering.

Neither Florida nor Louisiana has attempted to force pastors to perform marriages to which they object, to force religious institutions to rent their property for events to which they object, or to force businesses to be open on days their owners consider to be days of rest — the least controversial parts of Georgia’s House Bill 757.

Marc Benioff, the left-wing CEO of Salesforce, has also spoken out against HB 757:

Benioff on Friday asked his followers via Twitter whether his business technology company should move some its operations from the Peach State because of a proposed religious freedom bill that would let businesses decline to provide services for same-sex couples.

The cloud software company is slated to host a technology conference in Atlanta in May for 15,000 people, but Benioff hinted that the company may relocate it because of the legislation.

Benioff has ignored the fact that Salesforce does business in states with more strict religious freedom laws that what the Georgia legislature has passed, as Erick Erickson pointed out on his show on Monday.

Last year, I wrote in my book Football, Faith, & Flannery O'Connor: A Love Letter to the South about how religion has played a crucial part in making the South and her people so great. If Nathan Deal vetoes HB 757 on the threats of organizations and people who clearly do not know what the bill is about, he will have issued a tragic blow to the freedom of people of faith throughout his state. I urge him to do the right thing and sign this bill into law, and I know I'm not alone.