A new ‘religious liberty’ fight tests Georgia GOP again

Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed the “religious liberty” legislation, but it remains a hot topic among Republican activists. AJC file.

The state’s leading Republican activists are set to vote this weekend on a “religious liberty” resolution that tests the clout of the party’s new leader and could have implications on the race for governor.

Among the raft of resolutions up for debate at Saturday’s meeting of the Georgia GOP state committee is a particularly juicy one: It would urge gubernatorial candidates to pledge they would support a state version of the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act if elected.

There are four GOP candidates in the race, but this seems aimed at Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle. He was an outspoken supporter of the legislation in 2016, but said this year it should be up to federal lawmakers to decide the issue.

The state party passed resolutions endorsing the “religious liberty” measure in 2015 and 2016, and party activists even panned Gov. Nathan Deal last year for his veto of the bill. But pushing candidates to sign a pledge to back the controversial measure goes too far for some Republicans.

There’s an active effort backed by allies of Georgia GOP chair John Watson, as well as a range of other GOP activists, to roll back this part of the resolution:

“If elected Governor, I will actively support the Legislature in its efforts to pass an uncompromised, state-level RFRA that mirrors the federal RFRA. I will sign such a bill if it passes, protecting First Amendment rights, particularly the Free Exercise of Religion.”

Their argument: The Georgia GOP shouldn’t be in the business of trying to impose a pledge on a candidate.

“While I do support a RFRA and I do support the state party issuing resolutions identifying its positions, I do not support the party issuing some sort of mandate that candidates sign a pledge,” said Joseph Brannan, chair of the 2nd GOP District.

The supporters of the pledge are holding firm. Alex Johnson, a DeKalb attorney who has three times run for party chair, said the effort to remove the pledge wreaks of backroom shenanigans.

“We believe, at core, that politicians should keep their promises to voters,” he said. “And these efforts to remove the ‘pledge’ language make it seem that those in the paid political industry believe that politicians shouldn’t be required to even make promises to be accountable to.”

The state party was supposed to put the finishing touches on the resolutions at its June convention, but lengthy delays meant there was no quorum when it came time to vote. That means the state committee members – there are more than 200 of them, including ex-officio types – will have the final say.

The “religious liberty” legislation has morphed over time, but supporters typically want Georgia to join the 21 other states that have similar laws they say will protect people of faith from government intrusion, as well as strengthen legal protections for opponents of gay marriage. It has long enjoyed enormous support among grassroots GOP conservatives.

The opponents, including powerful business boosters and gay rights groups, warn it amounts to legalized discrimination and point to executives from dozens of big-name companies, including Apple, Disney and Time Warner, who threatened boycotts and called on Deal to veto the bill.

The “religious liberty” debate has been a vexing one for Cagle. He enthusiastically supported the measure last year, and vowed that it had the support of a “silent majority” despite the governor’s veto.

Cagle struck a different tone in the runup to this year’s legislative session, arguing that the debate should be left up to Congress. And he said that President Donald Trump’s victory sapped the need for new protections because he’ll appoint conservatives to the U.S. Supreme Court – which is set to soon consider the argument.

His three GOP rivals have staked out their positions: State Sens. Hunter Hill and Michael Williams both voted for the measure last year, and Secretary of State Brian Kemp has been supportive of it as well.

It’s an early challenge for Watson, a lobbyist and former aide to Sonny Perdue who was elected in June to lead the party.

Brandon Phillips, a veteran GOP operative who is on the state committee, said if Watson can strike a compromise that embraces RFRA while “avoiding the slippery slope of making candidates sign pledges, he’ll have a victory that shows he can successfully lead the many factions of our party.”

Reader Comments 1

144 comments
Jerry O'Deal Harris
Jerry O'Deal Harris

,,some say when he'll, freeze. But God. How are you doing opinionated about Good Faith and Greater that he is thee,the greatest for the conference,Room into the word. Stop the son from bleeding again. Thank you in the Air over All.

Valerie Ann Roccki-Marshall
Valerie Ann Roccki-Marshall

Churches - pay your taxes. It's a business if you drive a Mercedes and live in a huge house. Shame on you. Jesus said give up your wealth......

Sander Barber
Sander Barber

Religious Freedom means no one can stop you from worshipping as you see fit in your Home or PLACE OF WORSHIP. IF you permit discrimination based on religious beliefs that isn't religious freedom, it's oppression of religions other than yours.

MysticSheep
MysticSheep

It is abundantly, painfully clear that passing this in any way as law would devastate our economy, especially in our film and entertainment industry. It's idiotic. Apparently the Georgia GOP won't be happy until Georgia looks like Mississippi.

BA Baracus
BA Baracus

Freedom to discriminate is not religious freedom.

ptcrunner
ptcrunner

All is alive and well in Crackerstan thanks to clowns like McKoon. What an embarrassment. It will not be long before the movie industry pulls out of here. How do these so-called Christians feel as though they are experiencing discrimination? 

Peter Strals
Peter Strals

Stop using my faith to get votes by pandering to false religions. Jesus promised to give the Holy Spirit to all who will ask. He forgave all who will repent by faith. Jesus served all of us, let us serve one another by his grace to all leading that service.

Craig Breadon Sr.
Craig Breadon Sr.

I'd rather be liberated from religious oppression got a Constitutional right for that. Oh yeah that's right there is one it's called separation of church and state.

Mike Lindsey
Mike Lindsey

We need Marta rail expansion. Damn, just damn.

Cobbian
Cobbian

This is not about freedom of religion but about freedom to discriminate in the market places of jobs, goods, and services.  It created a great divide when discrimination was so rife before the Civil Rights era.  Didn't we learn anything????

Ben L Rainey
Ben L Rainey

we are guaranteed freedom of religion in first Amendment, what else do we need?

Paul Simon
Paul Simon

Given this group's track record, whatever is in the final text of the bill likely has very little to do with religious liberty ...

Kimberly Seman
Kimberly Seman

Republican's love to legislate their HATE, BIGTRY, and RACISM! This law is disgraceful! Shame on you Republican Party! Jesus Christ NEVER PREACHED OR TAUGHT HATE!

Jane Allen
Jane Allen

We have regressed about 100 years in the past few months. Really???

Joe Daniels
Joe Daniels

Deal thinks he is the God of georgia

Patricia Baker Charles
Patricia Baker Charles

LESLIE, YOU ARE EXACTLY RIGHT! It is just a way to discriminate. Of all the people in the world, you would think that religious people would have more love, compassion and understanding for their fellow man. They are not christains, if they were they would know this is wrong!

Travis Klavohn
Travis Klavohn

Just look at the RNC Platform 2016 and all the failed promises already. Most notable is the failed promise to unanimously vote to repeal Obamacare (page 36). 

If the R's cannot be trusted to repeal ACA in 2017, why would conservatives trust them on any issue? Religious freedom? Tax reform? Balanced budgets? Trade? 

If the GA GOP does not hold its politicians accountable, then why should a conservative in Georgia ever vote for a Republican? 

Brenda Addison
Brenda Addison

Salute GEORGIA GOP! As long as you REMEMBER -- Muslim is a CULT ! NOT A RELIGION .

Larry Eldon Fowler
Larry Eldon Fowler

Opponents of religious liberty claim religious liberty discriminates against homosexuals and other individuals. The Bible tells Christians they are suppose to tell Satan and his followers to go away from them. Matthew 4:10. The religious liberty bill makes that illegal and therefore discriminates against Christians by forcing Christians to associate with sinners against their will and against the word of god.

Elaine Daprano
Elaine Daprano

WHERE are you seeing Satan? In other people's choice of religion? If you're wary of other religions, perhaps you should read about them. I highly recommend Karen Armstrong's "The History of God". She is a Christian theologian and her book is studied in theological college classes.

Larry Eldon Fowler
Larry Eldon Fowler

Elaine Daprano, Jesus says " you either stand with me or against me." I see Satan where Jesus sees Satan.

William Daniel
William Daniel

Judge not lest you be judged. Jesus let by example not hate.

Kelly Robinson
Kelly Robinson

Are you sure you see Satan where Jesus sees Satan? John 13:34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.

Patricia Young
Patricia Young

The point is that people have a right to practise their own religion or no religion.It doesn't matter what the bible says because of separation of church and state.Stop trying to force Christianity on folks . Its their own choice.

Larry Eldon Fowler
Larry Eldon Fowler

William Daniel , "by their fruit you will know them." You don't have to judge.

Larry Eldon Fowler
Larry Eldon Fowler

Patricia Young , America was built by christians for christians. Any non Christians who don't like living in a Christian nation should move to a non-Christian nation.

Elise Ledbetter
Elise Ledbetter

Larry Eldon Fowler I guess you have not read it since the d Constitution of this country separates religion from government. This is Not a Christian nation and never has been. And your attitude is way more secular than any Christian. Read what the Christ in Christianity said and pray hard to be more like him than as Satanic as you sound.

Craig Breadon Sr.
Craig Breadon Sr.

Yeah and our constitution tells me I am free from religious oppression and government from passing laws based on religious beliefs.

Craig Breadon Sr.
Craig Breadon Sr.

The Bible says the relationship between man and God is a personal one. Let's keep it that way.

Craig Breadon Sr.
Craig Breadon Sr.

People never learn politics and religion always ends with a selfrighteous collapse of society and the great empire's they've corupted. Christian's become so selfrighteous that they think this time around we can do it. But as history has always shown us their always wrong.

Larry Eldon Fowler
Larry Eldon Fowler

Craig Breadon Sr. your country and constitution was built on Christianity.

Larry Eldon Fowler
Larry Eldon Fowler

Craig Breadon Sr. Christians have already done it ... 200 years ago. The separation of church and state crybabies can attest to that.

Larry Eldon Fowler
Larry Eldon Fowler

Craig Breadon Sr. perhaps non Christians should seek a non Christian country in which to live.

Joseph Schriefer
Joseph Schriefer

I guess it's a good thing America is not, never has been or ever will be an xian nation, isn't it Larry? You could always leave America and go find you an xian nation to live in, though

Lisa Crowley
Lisa Crowley

Larry Eldon Fowler please show me where in The Constitution god, Jesus or the bible is mentioned. If Christianity were the foundation of this country, it seems the founding fathers would have made the bible, god and Jesus and fundamental part of the Constitution. ......which they DID NOT.

Larry Eldon Fowler
Larry Eldon Fowler

Lisa Crowley , the Bible was in the hearts of the constitution's creators. Otherwise non Christians would either be exterminated or exiled like witches. That's where.

Joseph Schriefer
Joseph Schriefer

So xianity is mentioned nowhere in the constitution. Yeah, we knew that already

Joel Rea
Joel Rea

You christians should fit right in with satan. Hell, you're all just a bunch of hypocrites. You voted for a man that will be the racist bigot you need to do your dirty work -- one that can take everything from the poor and give it to the rich, then call the poor lazy bums. Why don't you just keep your religion out of our politics? 81% of evangelicals voted for Trump. This paints a pretty picture for evangelicals. Christians hate more than anyone else.

Patricia Young
Patricia Young

Larry Eldon Fowler No , the constitution says differently and if you don't like it then you can move to Russia or somewhere with your own kind!

Larry Eldon Fowler
Larry Eldon Fowler

Patricia Young , the Bible is perfectly clear that the only way to heaven is through Jesus Christ. You can argue anything you want with anyone you want but in the end you won't argue with Jesus Christ.

Lisa Crowley
Lisa Crowley

We have religious liberty thanks to our Constitution. We have the right to practice any religion we want, or no religion at all.....we DO NOT, however, have the right to try to force other to live by what WE believe.

Kevin Tuttle
Kevin Tuttle

The only one actively threatening to curtail religious freedom is the President...

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