Civil rights groups laud Deal for ‘religious liberty’ veto

[private]Civil rights activists commended Gov. Nathan Deal at a Tuesday rally for his decision last week to veto HB 757, the “religious liberty” bill passed by Republican legislators this session.

“We’re here to thank Gov. Nathan Deal, who showed the courage and insight to say no,” said Jeff Graham of Georgia Equality at the rally that drew about 200 gay activists and media to Liberty Plaza across from the state capitol.

“Thank you to Governor Deal, who truly showed true leadership on this issue,” said Ronald Cato, an African-American student who heads the College Republicans at Georgia State University. “Governor Deal did more than just veto a bill – he solidified the moral character of this state.”

“I want you to thank Governor Deal for standing up not only to his party, but to the fringe of his party,” said Simone Bell, a former legislator who’s now the regional director of Lambda Legal, a gay rights organization.

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“We’re here to praise Governor Deal,” said Rev. William Flippen, vice president of the Georgia NAACP. “He has done the right thing . . . Do not stand by and let discrimination call itself ‘freedom.’ I’m glad our governor feels the same way.”

Deal, the subject of all this praise, did not attend the rally and was not invited by the event’s organizers, according to Jeff Graham of Georgia Equality. Deal, a Republican, has already drawn considerable criticism for the veto from members of his own party and Christian conservatives who wanted him to sign HB 757.

In noting all the speakers who commended the governor, Graham observed, “He’s definitely got a new fan base.”

The speakers cautioned the audience to expect a similar religious bill to be introduced by Republican legislators in next year’s session.

“We know this is coming back in 2017,” said Mark Moskowitz of the Anti-Defamation League. “We want to continue to be on the side of fairness and on the right side of history.”

“They’re mad, y’all,” Bell said. “They’re coming back. We must remain vigilant – we can celebrate today, but we’ve got to come back tomorrow and keep working.”

HB 757 would have prevented ministers from being sued if they refuse to participate in a same-sex wedding ceremony – a freedom that has already been written into the U.S. and Georgia constitutions, according to the bill’s critics. The bill would have also allowed private organizations to deny services to gays if they did so out of a “sincerely held religious belief.”

“First of all, you’re not invited to our parties, you’re not on our list – so stop all that,” said Bell, who was one of a few openly gay legislators when she served in the House. “We are not backing off.”

© 2016 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: Jeff Graham , Mark Moskowitz , Nathan Deal veto , religious liberty , Simone Bell