“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” – Constitution, First Amendment
The Constitution wants religion and government to be separate. That’s not a new concept. Jesus once said, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.”
In other words, church and state should be separate.
It is not the place of local or state government to reinterpret the above to permit religion to be used to abuse the rights of minorities. Religion can be used for good or bad, as a burning cross illustrates. The civil rights movement should have shown us that fact, but evidently it has not. A license to discriminate bill (SB 221) was introduced into the Georgia Senate on 3-1-19 by Marty Harbin, our Senator, but thankfully didn’t make it all the way through the legislature.
In December 2018, the Fayette County Commission passed a resolution (Commissioner Charles Rousseau voted in opposition) supporting the so called “Religious Liberty” bill in the Georgia legislature, despite the fact that the majority of citizens in attendance were against it. There were many reasons put forth as to why the resolution should not be passed.
Financially, it’s absolutely clear that the BOC’s actions will be detrimental to our county’s economy, despite the denials of some BOC members. Disney/ Marvel Studios; Time Warner/HBO, Warner/Turner Broadcasting (based in Comcast NBCUniversal; Viacom (Paramount, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, VH1, Spike and the AMC Networks); Amblin Partners (Steven Spielberg); Netflix; Sony Pictures; Discovery Communications; and Coca-Cola all opposed the state Religious Liberty Bill in 2016 (USA Today, 2016). Further, an additional loss of $600 million in sports related and convention business over a five-year period was projected by the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, not a left-wing group. We have become a destination city, and we are in danger of losing that designation.
Fayette County Development Authority Chairman Darryl Hicks indicated that Fayette already lost a major business (Facebook) due in part to our BOC’s religious liberty stance. Frankly, who knows how many other firms we have already or will lose as a result of this politically motivated action?
The bigger question is moral versus financial. Regarding his bill, Sen. Marty Harbin once spoke to the BOC “about a man planting an apple tree with his grandson” (Fayette News).
Well, by approving the resolution to support Harbin’s bill, the BOC planted seeds…of hatred, which will indeed grow. Harbin and others like him wish to use religion as an excuse to discriminate against people who are different than themselves. His bill is not promotion of religious freedom, it’s an endorsement of religion to the exclusion of the rights of minorities.
The Constitution already prohibits governmental interference in religion. However, this separation does not, for example, give a cult the ability to lawfully murder its members (via Jim Jones). The Constitution is a living document interpreted via common sense and law. And, using absolutist religion as an excuse for bigotry is wrong, period.
For hundreds of years, the Bible was used to excuse the practice of slavery. White slave owners pointed to passages from the Bible to show that blacks were inferior. It took a bloody civil war to free the slaves. For more on this topic, read Jeannine Hill Fletcher’s “The Sin of White Supremacy.”
There are still white supremacist congregations (with their unique form of “Christian Identity” religion) who say black people and others are demons. Under “religious liberty” doctrine, should Georgians let them discriminate against African-Americans regardless of our civil rights laws?
This Commission was wrong in its “religious liberty” declaration. Harbin’s bill is designed to circumvent civil rights laws regarding discrimination against the LBGT community, but this bill could be used to discriminate against any minority group (blacks, Muslims, Jews, Mormons, women, etc.).
Obviously, the BOC should stay away from topics which are not local. Further, it must not push religious views of any sort onto its citizens, including thinly-veiled fundamentalist doctrine. To do so is clearly wrong and against the wishes of our Founding Fathers. Now that things have calmed down, and the legislature has rejected a similar bill, the BOC should rescind its resolution.