Freedom of religion or freedom to be bigoted?

Jack Bernard, a retired SVP with a large national healthcare firm, has worked extensively with hospitals across the nation regarding cost containment and insurance. He was also the first Director of Health Planning for the state of Georgia.

Last year, Governor Deal, a dyed in the wool conservative, vetoed a supposed religious freedom bill, HB 757. He stated his intention to veto any bill which “allows discrimination in our state in order to protect people of faith.”

I would like to believe he did this because he is opposed to bigotry (especially against the LBGT community) disguised as religious belief. However, the real motivation is more pragmatic. We were losing business opportunities. Two corporations decided against coming here specifically due to the bill and a large number of others came out strongly opposing it.

I suppose our right-wing extremist, fundamentalist legislature will never learn. A “religious liberty” bill (Senate Bill 233) has been introduced in the Georgia Senate by our very own Marty Harbin of Tyrone. Various current letters and columns in Georgia newspapers supporting may be well-written, but are misleading in their interpretations of the Constitution. That document, which many religious conservatives obviously have never read, reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Many conservatives only acknowledge the last part of the sentence. Usually, this misinterpretation comes with the implicit (and often explicit) assumption that we are a “Christian nation” or “Judeo-Christian nation.” Of course, there is absolutely no basis for this assumption. It’s just another “alternate fact.”

The founders were men of the Renaissance, who often did not believe in God and/or the Trinity, at least not as many evangelicals now do. Jefferson is a good example of a deist. Samuel Adams was an atheist. John Adams was a Unitarian and so on.

Looking at Europe, the Founding Fathers saw the problems brought about by centuries of religious conflict. They clearly wanted to avoid that here in the New World, a place where Europeans came to practice their religions freely.

Therefore, they wanted a wall separating religion and government. That wall is violated when any government employee, including a coach or teacher, advocates directly or indirectly for religion.

Getting back to the business aspects, many businesses have threatened to leave, the way they did in North Carolina when a similar law was passed, hurting that state’s economy. Another key factor is Amazon, considering Atlanta for its second headquarters. We have no state law permitting discrimination by religious groups or individuals, while others do. This gives us a major leg up on the competition. For these reasons, the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and the Metro Atlanta Chamber, no bastions of liberalism, are firmly opposing the Harbin bill.
I hope that our legislature will come to its senses before we lose the Amazon bid. If not, I hope the Governor’s sure veto will stop this annual fiasco.