Following the Georgia governor’s recent veto of a religious liberty bill, the state’s Catholic bishops are calling for further debate and dialogue on the issue.
“We fervently support religious liberty guaranteed by the United States and Georgia constitutions and we respect those who seek to enhance those freedoms through legislation,” said Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta and Bishop Gregory Hartmayer of Savannah.
The governor’s veto means that debate will continue, the bishops said in a March 29 statement. They encouraged respect for the “worthy motivations” of people on both sides of the debate.
The state’s Catholic bishops did not take an explicit stand for or against the legislation. Instead, they commented more broadly, “While we and the other Catholic bishops in the United States support the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), we do not support any implementation of RFRA in a way that will discriminate against any individual.”
Archbishop Gregory and Bishop Hartmayer stressed the importance of religious liberty, rooted in the dignity of each human person.
Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, a Republican, vetoed House Bill 757 on Monday.
The bill would have protected some faith-based organizations like churches and religious schools or associations from being forced to compromise the tenets of their faith through various means. It would have protected them from being required to employ people whose beliefs or practices are not in accord with the organizations’ religious beliefs.
It would also have protected religious officials from being required to perform marriage ceremonies by state law, as well as protecting organizations from being forced to rent facilities or allow them to be used for events that violate their “sincerely held religious belief.”
Gov. Deal said the bill does not reflect Georgia’s image as a state of “warm, friendly people.” While backers of the bill cited violations of religious liberty in other states, he said these were not relevant to Georgia, whose law does not recognize sexual orientation as a protected class.
Deal also said he rejected “threats” from some businesses opposed to the bill.
Opponents of the bill included LGBT activist groups and major corporations like Disney, Apple and Intel that threatened economic retaliation against the state if it passed the bill. The NFL and the NCAA warned that the passage of the bill could influence their decisions about holding sports championships in the state.
Ryan T. Anderson, a writer on marriage and religious liberty topics based at the Heritage Foundation, criticized the governor’s veto. He charged that the governor “caved to pressure from big business and special interests.”
“This shows the lack of courage of many in the political class, and it also highlights the extreme nature of the left and the business community. To these groups, even mild religious liberty protections are unacceptable,” Anderson said in a March 28 commentary at The Daily Signal.
Anderson said the revised bill was “very modest” and may not, in fact, provide any protection for religious freedom from new or existing laws that protect sexual orientation and gender identity.
He said the vetoed bill had a narrow definition of religious organizations and its lack of protections for bakers, florists, or wedding industry professionals who cannot cooperate in the celebration of a same-sex union for religious reasons.
Anderson called for strong religious freedom protections.
“America is in a time of transition,” he said, citing the redefinition of marriage in the courts and changing beliefs about human sexuality. “During this time, it is critical to protect the right to disagree and the civil liberties of those who speak and act in accord with what Americans had always believed about marriage — that it is the union of husband and wife.”
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