Deal will veto ‘religious liberty’ bill

[private]Gov. Nathan Deal ended the suspense Monday morning by announcing he will veto HB 757, the controversial “religious liberty” bill passed by the General Assembly.

Deal held a news conference in his office on the day after Easter to break the news that had been eagerly awaited by religious conservatives and business leaders ever since the Legislature adjourned last week.

The governor said he made his decision to veto the bill after enduring “insults” from religious groups “that questioned my convictions and character” and receiving threats from businesses to leave Georgia if he signed the bill.

“They should know I don’t respond very well to insults or threats,” Deal said.

Deal took no questions from reporters after announcing the veto and quickly exited his ceremonial office.

He had until May 3 to act on the bill, but by doing it quickly avoided a long, drawn-out argument over the issue. He will also avoid the mess that Indiana Gov. Mike Pence made last year when he signed a similar bill that the state legislature amended within days.

Deal said he would have signed the “Pastor Protection Bill” that the House passed at the urging of Speaker David Ralston. Language added to that bill, however, could have resulted in “discrimination sanctioned by the state,” so Deal decided he could not sign it.

Like Ralston, Deal said religious liberty is “something that is best left to the broad protections of the First Amendment (to the U.S. Constitution) . . . perhaps we should simply heed the admonitions of the First Amendment.”

“Georgia is a welcoming state filled with warm, friendly and loving people,” he said. “Our cities and countryside are populated with people who worship God in a myriad of ways and in very diverse settings.”

“Our people work side by side without regard to the color of our skin or the religion we adhere to. We are working to make life better for our families and our communities. That is the character of Georgia. I intend to do my part to keep it that way.”

Supporters of HB 757 cited numerous examples of alleged violations of religious freedom that they said justified passage of the bill.

“I am not aware of a single instance of any of these things happening in the state of Georgia,” Deal said.

“I have shared many of the same concerns expressed by Governor Deal,” Ralston said. “That is why I have insisted throughout this entire debate that any measure we passed must not only protect the free exercise of religion and faith-based organizations, but also had to include clear anti-discriminatory language.”

The governor faces the possibility of a revolt from conservative Republicans in the General Assembly.

Sen. Bill Heath (R-Bremen) vowed last week that if Deal vetoed the bill, legislators would call a special session and override that veto.

A veto override would require a two-thirds majority in both chambers. That would be a difficult task in the House, where only 104 members voted for the bill, far short of the 120 needed for a two-thirds vote.

“What I hoped would be my first full day back at my law practice has been overrun by RFRA questions,” Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus), a strong supporter of HB 757, posted on Facebook. “Friends, we all need to take a deep breath as we consider next steps.”

The gay rights organization Lambda Legal hailed Deal for his decision to veto HB 757.

“We applaud today’s veto by Governor Deal and thank him for his willingness to listen to the voices explaining the damage this bill could have caused,” said Southern Regional Director Simone Bell, a former legislator.

“In the end, Governor Deal did not allow hate and fear-mongering to dictate state policy; instead he chose to act reasonably and with compassion and demonstrated that equality is a Georgia value,” Bell said.

“Leaders from both sides of the aisle and the business community, as well as the countless Georgians who spoke against the politics of exclusion, also deserve a great deal of thanks for standing firm in the belief that our state is better off when we all have full and equal protection under the law,” said Michael Smith of the state Democratic Party.

“The Georgia Chamber agrees with Governor Deal’s thoughtful reasoning to veto HB 757,” Chairman Hank Linginfelter said. “While we thank members of the General Assembly for their efforts to find a balanced approach, we believe this action ensures that Georgia continues to be a welcoming state to live and do business.”

© 2016 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: Nathan Deal , religious liberty