Legalizing hate in Georgia

It only took three days before the Georgia General Assembly saw a bill filed that, if passed and signed by Governor Deal, will mark us a state that allows discrimination based on religious faith. Filed by Republican Representative Kevin Tanner of Dawsonville, HB756 allows business owners the right to deny services or the selling of goods to a “religious organization” or for a “religious or matrimonial ceremony” if the business owner says the organization or ceremony conflicts with his/her right to exercise their religious freedom.

That means HB756 legalizes discrimination by florists, bakers, bridal shops, caterers, wedding sites, and other businesses connected to the wedding industry, simply because the business owner personally opposes the marriage. That’s legislative code for opposing same-sex marriage.That also means the business owner can do the same if they don’t like the tenants of a religious organization.

In other words, if you don’t worship where I worship, I don’t have to treat you like I would the members of my church when you come into my place of business.

I used the word “church” because HB756 specifies churches for protection under this law. Temples, mosques, and other places of worship are not described at all, just churches. 

HB756 reads, “the term ‘religious organization’ means a church, a religious school, an association or convention of churches, a convention mission agency, or an integrated auxiliary of a church or convention or association of churches…”
Christians go to church, Jews attend synagogues or temples, and Hindus and Muslims worship in temples. Tanner and Hb756 co-sponsors Tom Rice, R-Norcross, Randy Nix, R-LaGrange, and Paul Battles, R-Cartersville, know this, and their choice of words is telling. They want to make sure churchgoers are afforded the right to discriminate.

Speaker of the House David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, is only supporting Tanner’s other bill, HB757, called the “Pastor Protection Bill,” a bill that allows a minister to decline a request to perform a marriage ceremony if it conflicts with his/her beliefs.

Of course there shouldn’t be legislation allowing a person who is licensed by the state to perform legal ceremonies, to deny services to anyone, but this move to “protect” pastors pales in comparison to Tanner’s HB756.

The wedding industry is huge, and state coffers benefit greatly from them. Hotel rooms are booked, gas tanks filled, gifts sent, clothing bought, and bouquets tossed to guests. Legalizing hate in HB756 doesn’t make legal sense or good economic sense.

Read Paragraph Six

I am reposting this post written by attorney Jessica Eaves Mathews. The sixth paragraph, which begins with, ” In fact,” makes several important points.

Jessica Eaves Mathews:
I say this with sincere love to my many friends who are passionate fundamentalist Christians who believe that the SCOTUS’s decision yesterday on marriage equality is an abomination to themselves and to God: As a lawyer, I need to attempt to set the record straight.

Our country was created by our founding fathers very deliberately to prevent the establishment of a national religion from our governance. The Church – Catholic or Anglican – was central to almost every other country in the world historically, especially England from which our founding fathers separated. It was critical to our founding fathers that one central religion NOT be declared and NOT be incorporated into our Constitution or governance. They understood that an establishment of a national religion would ultimately abridge the very rights they believed were fundamental and were meant to be recognized and protected by the Bill of Rights and ultimately the Constitution.

Religion-based loss of basic rights had been their experience in England and they wanted to prevent that here.

The fact is that this decision yesterday was a LEGAL decision about the scope of our Constitutional rights as humans and US citizens. It was not about religion, religious beliefs or religious freedom. It is about equal rights, just as the decisions to give women the vote and the decision to abolish slavery were about equal rights.

Rights are not and should not be up for a popular vote or up to the states to determine. Rights are absolute and cannot be dependent upon anything other than the fact that the person is a human being and is a citizen of the US. If those two conditions are met, YOUR belief system about what is MORALLY or spiritually right or wrong does not matter and should not. You should be glad that is the case, because it would be just as easy for another religion to take over and curtail your rights as a Christian (something that has happened throughout history).

In fact, one religious party believing they know the truth for all humans is how terrible oppression starts – that is how Naziism started, the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Salem Witch Trials, the Klu Klux Klan, Al-Qaeda and now ISIS – the most destructive, hateful, murderous periods of human history have arisen directly out of one religious group (ironically, most of these examples were lead by Christians) believing their religion and religious beliefs were THE truth, and therefore they had the right to take away the rights (and lives) of those who lived or believed differently than them.

Our founding fathers wanted to prevent that outcome. So does our current Supreme Court. THAT is the law of the land and I could not be more grateful to be an American than when human rights are protected. I don’t have to agree with you to believe with all my heart and soul that YOUR rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness should be protected against oppression or prejudice. LGBT US citizens deserve exactly the same treatment. God Bless America.

p.s. Those railing against the decision of marriage equality as a basic constitutional right are confusing the idea of constitutional (i.e human) rights with certain types of behavior (the stuff they call “sin”). But human rights are inherent in all human beings and US citizens – not doled out based on who is behaving “well” and who isn’t. All US citizens should have the equal right to pursue life, liberty and happiness, regardless of the “sins” they commit. The only behavior that should curtail your constitutional rights is if you commit a crime (a felony) and are convicted. But even then, criminals can still marry, have kids, own property, work and live in our communities. The only things they can’t do is vote and carry firearms. If committing a sin was a barrier to receiving basic constitutional rights in this country, we would all be in big trouble, not just the LGBT community.

Georgia doesn’t need to legislate hate

Rocco's Litte Chicago Pizza in Tucson, AZ
Rocco’s Litte Chicago Pizza in Tucson, AZ

Arizona’s Republican United States Senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake, are joining the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and major corporations and calling for Gov Jan Brewer to reject SB 1062, a bill designed to allow discrimination against gay people (and who knows who else) based on the religion of the person who feels a need to discriminate. The uproar and pushback are so strong that four major companies are reconsidering decisions to bring thousands of jobs to the state. Arizona hobbled itself over establishing a Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday years ago, and there is already plenty of talk about moving the 2015 Super Bowl out of the state if Brewer signs the bill.

Arizona’s bad idea is also a bad idea for Georgia, and there are two bills in the General Assembly that would hurt our state by legalizing discrimination based on the “preservation of religious freedom.” The House version of this hate bill masquerading as religious freedom is HB 1023. The Senate’s version is SB 377.

I was stunned to find Rep Mack Jackson’s name on the House version of this bill. Mack, a Democrat who serves District 128 where I live, is the minster of St. James Christian Fellowship in Tennille.

My first questions to him were, “Have you talked to Dr Lowery about this? Would Dr. King support you on this?”

I value religious freedom and the separation of church and state. But there’s a big difference between religious freedom and legalizing discrimination based on one’s personal faith.

What lies at the heart of this bill is legalizing discrimination against gay people. In addition to a business choosing to refuse service to gay people, they could also discriminate against Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, …….. How about overweight and obese people if your faith deplores people who are more than a healthy weight (that could reduce revenues for businesses in the South where we seem to have an epidemic of weight issues)?

It is stunning that in the state where Dr King is buried, and Civil Rights champions Dr Joseph Lowery and Rep John Lewis call home, any state legislator would put their name on a bill like HB 1023/SB 377.

Crossover Day in the General Assembly is Monday, March 3rd. That means you need to act now! You can sign this petition, contact your legislators, or do both.

As this morning has progressed Mack replied to my text message saying he took his name off the bill (it still appears in the online version). A couple of hours later he posted on Facebook that he didn’t sponsor this bill. Now, as I am posting here, he has texted me saying, “My name was on the bill but was taken off in the clerk’s office after it was brought to my attention the effect of this bill. It is never my intention to discriminate against anyone. I did not sponsor the bill.”

Thank you for stepping back Rep Jackson. You and others under the Gold Dome will better serve your constituents if you fully understand the impact legislation will have on individuals, families, businesses, and our state before filing bills. Our job is to hold you accountable.