Policies intended to encourage inclusion have curdled into antipathy for people of faith.
The American Founders believed religious liberty to be so essential that they enshrined it in the First Amendment. Today, however, it is treated as only another flashpoint in the culture wars. Simply look at the reaction to Georgia’s H.B. 757, a religious-freedom bill that my colleagues in the legislature and I voted to pass on March 16.
In light of the Supreme Court’s decision last year in Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage throughout the U.S., Georgia’s lawmakers wanted to be clear that our state’s protections for religious liberty have not changed. The bill would have protected clerics from adverse government action for their refusal to perform marriages or sacraments that conflict with their religious beliefs. Religious organizations would have been protected in their hiring practices and from adverse government action if they refused to allow the use of their property or provide services in violation of their sincerely held religious beliefs.
The bill also would have incorporated into Georgia law the text of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), federal law since 1993 and part of the legal codes in at least 30 states. RFRA restores a judicial balancing test that ensures government cannot substantially burden the free exercise of religion without compelling justification, and that the least restrictive means is used to accomplish its constitutional objective.
In 2014 and 2015, Georgia also attempted to pass RFRA, but then, as now, opponents claimed that these efforts would enable discrimination. Just when did the freedom to follow one’s religious beliefs in daily life become redefined as discrimination?
No matter. Disney and Marvel threatened to pull production of the “Avengers” film franchise from the Peach State, and the cable channel AMC vowed to take its “Walking Dead” series elsewhere. The NFL warned that it might drop Atlanta from consideration to host a Super Bowl. Dozens of Georgia companies urged Gov. Nathan Deal to veto the bill, which he did on March 28.
This is, by now, a familiar playbook. Last year the furor was enormous after Indiana Gov.Mike Pence signed a religious-freedom bill. Indiana employers called for its repeal, and the NCAA threatened to pull the Final Four tournament from the basketball-crazed state. Under intense pressure, the legislature quickly passed a “fix” that undermined standard RFRA protections.
North Carolina finds itself targeted over a common-sense new law blocking cities and counties from forcing businesses to give transgender people access to the bathroom of their choice. If a restaurant owner wants to allow transgender people to use their preferred bathroom, that’s no problem. The new law simply prevents local governments from forcing business owners to adopt such a policy.
Yet the Tar Heel State now faces an onslaught. More than 120 corporations have demanded the law’s repeal, and the Obama administration is reviewing federal aid to the state. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has banned travel there by state employees, even as he promotes travel and trade with communist Cuba.
Why are businesses and sports leagues suddenly championing leftist ideologies that oppose not only religious liberty but even legislation that protects the safety of women and children in restrooms? They are systematically and deliberately misrepresenting these legislative efforts. Despite the threats, Gov. Phil Bryant of Mississippi signed a religious-freedom bill on April 5, and legislators in Missouri and Tennessee are considering similar measures. It is past time for Georgia to join them.
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SOURCE: The Wall Street Journal