April 5, 2016

April 5, 2016 | Commentary on Georgia, Religious Liberty

Big Biz Wins, Georgians Lose Re: HB 757

Easter Monday didn’t bring good news to citizens in the peach state. Instead, corporate bullying killed a religious liberty bill. Big business and special interests successfully pressured Gov. Deal to veto legislation offering common-sense solutions to the challenges of a changing culture.

It’s not unique to Georgia. And it’s bad news for all Americans.

We’ve seen this play out in state after state. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R), vetoed a religious liberty bill in 2014 after the NFL threatened to move the Super Bowl out of her state.

In 2015, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) signed a religious liberty bill into law—and then promptly worked with the legislature to gut it—after Salesforce, Inc. threatened to pull out of the state.

South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R), vetoed a bathroom privacy and safety bill earlier this year after a similar uproar.

And the NBA is currently threatening to move the All-Star game out of North Carolina because the state legislature passed a good bill dealing with bathroom access. This time, however, Gov. Pat McCrory (R) is standing strong.

The people of Georgia wanted the religious freedom bill to become law. But corporate elites didn’t—and they used their economic power to coerce officials to get their way.

They didn’t win an argument. Instead they threatened to boycott and transfer jobs out of the state if the governor didn’t do as they insisted.

We’re familiar with crony capitalism—where big businesses collude with big government to rig the game in their favor. The same thing can take place in the culture.

Cultural cronyism takes place when big businesses use their outsized market share to make economic threats to pressure the government to do their bidding at the expense of the will of the people and the common good.

The bill that Gov. Deal vetoed would have safeguarded clergy from being coerced into officiating at same-sex weddings, prevented religious schools from being forced to hire someone who publicly undermines their mission, and prohibited the state from discriminating against churches and their ministries because they believe that marriage is between a man and a woman.

The final bill was significantly watered down the original version. It did not protect bakers, florists, or similar wedding professionals. Its very narrow definition of faith-based organizations—which covered only churches, religious schools, and their “integrated auxiliaries”—was the same unacceptable definition the Obama administration developed to exclude the Little Sisters of the Poor from religious liberty protections under the Obamacare contraception mandate.

Yet even these modest religious liberty protections were unacceptable.

Why do the NFL and the NCAA, Disney and Apple have zero tolerance when it comes to religious freedom bills in Georgia and across the country?

Businesses in Georgia have always been free to celebrate gay marriage by baking wedding cakes or designing flowers for gay marriages—and many do. Religious freedom does not take away anyone’s freedom to marry or to celebrate a marriage. It simply protects those who don’t agree from having to participate. But now activists want the government to force everyone in Georgia to get on board. And they’ve attacked religious freedom for everyone in the process.

The Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision mandating that the government recognize same-sex marriage is part of a major social change. Protecting minority rights in the wake of such change is an important feature of America’s tradition of tolerance in the midst of pluralism.

But Gov. Deal seems unwilling to do anything that might protect such people and their rights. And big business and special interests on the left seem intent on doing everything to make sure people are coerced by the government into violating their beliefs.

 - Ryan T. Anderson is William E. Simon Senior Research Fellow.

 - This piece originally appeared in the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

About the Author

Ryan T. Anderson, Ph.D. William E. Simon Senior Research Fellow in American Principles and Public Policy
DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society

Originally appeared in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution