NFL objects to Georgia’s religious liberty bill

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ATLANTA — Supporters of the bill are urging their state’s governor to sign it despite his hints of a veto and threats from the NFL that adopting the measure could disqualify Atlanta from hosting the Super Bowl.

The NFL released a statement on Friday, March 18 to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution saying it will review the law in conjunction with determining whether the Falcons get the game.

The statement from league spokesman Brian McCarthy read “NFL policies emphasize tolerance and inclusiveness, and prohibit discrimination based on age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other improper standard. Whether the laws and regulations of a state and local community are consistent with these policies would be one of many factors NFL owners may use to evaluate potential Super Bowl host sites.”

The proposed legislation combines elements of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a First Amendment Defense Act and a Pastor Protection Act.

Among other provisions, the bill would permit business owners to decline participation in same-sex weddings if doing so violates their sincerely held religious beliefs. The measure also would protect faith-based organizations that support traditional marriage from being denied government benefits because of their convictions, said Mike Griffin, pastor of Liberty Baptist Church in Hartwell, Georgia.

The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, took issue with the legislation’s final language, arguing it “waters down a religious freedom bill that had real force.”

Specifically, The Heritage Foundation’s Ryan Anderson and Roger Severino wrote in an online commentary that “the bill provides Religious Freedom Restoration Act levels of protection for certain protected persons, but it explicitly says these protections cannot apply in cases of ‘invidious discrimination.'” By leaving “invidious” undefined, the measure opens itself to anti-Christian interpretations by activists judges, Anderson and Severino argued.

Additionally, the section protecting faith-based organizations from government discrimination covers only “churches, religious schools and ‘integrated auxiliaries,'” Anderson and Severino wrote, leaving some religious organizations unprotected.

The Heritage Foundation authors alleged the bill “provides no protection for bakers or florists or other similar wedding professionals.” However, Griffin said it allows courts to give such individuals “injunctive relief” while not granting them standing to sue the government “for monetary damages.”

 

Potential veto

Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution enacting the religious liberty bill was “not on my agenda.” The governor then noted his status as a Southern Baptist and a Mercer University graduate before offering a theological argument on tolerance.

“We have a belief in forgiveness and that we do not have to discriminate unduly against anyone on the basis of our own religious beliefs,” Deal said of Christians. “We are not jeopardized, in my opinion, by those who believe differently from us. We are not, in my opinion, put in jeopardy by virtue of those who might hold different beliefs or who may not even agree with what our Supreme Court said the law of the land is on the issue of same-sex marriage. I do not feel threatened by the fact that people who might choose same-sex marriages pursue that route.”

Deal said he personally believes in “traditional marriage” between a man and a woman, the AJC reported.

Under state law, Deal has until May 3 to sign or veto the religious liberty bill. If he takes no action, it will become law automatically.

 

Super Bowl to be denied?

Meanwhile, other businesses have joined the NFL — including Coca Cola, Apple and Intel – in urging Deal to veto the religious liberty bill.

State Sen. Greg Kirk, the bill’s senate sponsor, said that “the NFL needs to stick to football and let lawmakers make laws.”

Georgia is America’s “number one place to do business” and has “done everything the NFL has asked,” including exempting Super Bowl tickets from state sales tax and building a new stadium, said Kirk.

State Rep. Kevin Tanner, a House sponsor of the bill, said that protecting religious liberty will not harm businesses.

Georgia is “set up for businesses to operate and flourish here in the state,” said Tanner. “Offering this protection to our citizens is not going to hurt the business community in any way, and they know that. … This is an opportunity for publicity and for them to attract folks to the fact that they’re diverse and they’re open.”

by David Roach | BP

 

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