Gov. Deal has two choices on ‘re­li­gious lib­erty’ bill

The Covington News - - OPINION - Tom Craw­ford is edi­tor of The Ge­or­gia Re­port, an in­ter­net news ser­vice at gare­port.com that re­ports on state gov­ern­ment and pol­i­tics. He can be reached at tcraw­ford@gare­port.com.

As Gov. Nathan Deal pon­ders the “re­li­gious lib­erty” bill that the General Assem­bly has adopted, he can look to re­cent ex­am­ples of how two other Repub­li­can gov­er­nors han­dled this par­tic­u­lar is­sue.

The ex­am­ple cited of­ten in me­dia ac­counts is Gov. Mike Pence of In­di­ana.

Last year, the In­di­ana leg­is­la­ture passed a Re­li­gious Free­dom Restora­tion Act that was sim­i­lar to what Ge­or­gia’s law­mak­ers have adopted this year. Crit­ics of the bill said it would lead to wide­spread dis­crim­i­na­tion against the LGBT com­mu­nity and dam­age In­di­ana’s busi­ness im­age, but Pence signed the bill any­way.

Re­ac­tion to the new law was im­me­di­ate, wide­spread, and in­tense. Sev­eral or­ga­ni­za­tions with­drew events from the state, Angie’s List can­celled a $40 mil­lion ex­pan­sion of its head­quar­ters, and busi­ness boy­cotts were threat­ened.

The state was pil­lo­ried in the na­tional me­dia, with the In­di­anapo­lis Star run­ning a front page ed­i­to­rial un­der the head­line “Fix This Now,” de­mand­ing that the new law be amended.

In­di­ana law­mak­ers quickly passed a sep­a­rate bill to pro­vide pro­tec­tions for LGBT cus­tomers, em­ploy­ees and ten­ants, and Pence signed the leg­is­la­tion one week af­ter he signed the orig­i­nal bill.

“Over the past week this law has be­come a sub­ject of great mis­un­der­stand­ing and con­tro­versy across our state and na­tion,” Pence said. “How­ever we got here, we are where we are, and it is im­por­tant that our state take ac­tion to ad­dress the con­cerns that have been raised and move for­ward.”

The blow­back that re­sulted from In­di­ana pass­ing a re­li­gious free­dom law could eas­ily hap­pen here if Deal signs the con­tro­ver­sial bill. “The fact is, we will en­dure a boy­cott of this state,” Sen. Vin­cent Fort ( D-At­lanta) said. “Get ready for it; it will af­fect this state.”

Deal can also con­sider the ex­am­ple of Jan Brewer, the Repub­li­can gover­nor of Ari­zona from 2009 to 2015.

Brewer is as staunch a con­ser­va­tive as you’ll find. While she served as gover­nor of Ari­zona, she signed the state’s con­tro­ver­sial im­mi­gra­tion law, called “Pa­pers, please,” that served as a model for the anti-im­mi­gra­tion bill signed by Deal in 2011.

In 2014, the Ari­zona leg­is­la­ture passed a re­li­gious free­dom bill called Se­nate Bill 1062 that was sim­i­lar in its pro­vi­sions to the bill Pence would sign a year later in In­di­ana.

Se­nate Bill 1062 went to Brewer’s desk for her sig­na­ture but, un­like Pence, Brewer ve­toed it.

“As gover­nor, I have pro­tected re­li­gious free­doms when there is a spe­cific and present con­cern that ex­ists in our state,” Brewer said. “Se­nate Bill 1062 does not ad­dress a spe­cific and present con­cern re­lated to re­li­gious lib­erty in Ari­zona. I have not heard of one ex­am­ple in Ari­zona where a busi­ness owner’s re­li­gious lib­erty has been vi­o­lated.”

Brewer said she wor­ried that the bill, if it be­came law, “could di­vide Ari­zona in ways we can­not even imag­ine and no one would ever want. Let’s turn the ug­li­ness of the de­bate over Se­nate Bill 1062 into a re­newed search for greater re­spect and un­der­stand­ing among all Ari­zo­nans and Amer­i­cans.”

Brewer’s veto of the bill en­abled Ari­zona to avoid the po­lit­i­cal quag­mire that Pence would step into a year later in In­di­ana. There were no eco­nomic boy­cotts and busi­nesses did not flee the state.

Here’s the situation for Ge­or­gia now that the re­li­gion bill is in a po­si­tion to be­come law.

The Na­tional Football League has al­ready warned that en­act­ment of the law could take At­lanta out of con­sid­er­a­tion as a fu­ture site for the Su­per Bowl. The city could also lose NCAA bas­ket­ball tour­na­ments and other events that might be held in the domed sta­dium be­ing built for At­lanta Fal­cons owner Arthur Blank.

At­lanta has al­ready com­mit­ted $400 mil­lion in tax funds to build and main­tain that sta­dium. The state is spend­ing an­other $40 mil­lion in pub­lic money on a park­ing deck. Will all that tax money go down the drain be­cause some leg­is­la­tors don’t like gays?

At­lanta and Ge­or­gia will also find it dif­fi­cult to at­tract new busi­nesses. “This leg­is­la­tion will ir­repara­bly dam­age our econ­omy and di­min­ish the City of At­lanta’s stand­ing as the busi­ness and cul­tural cen­ter of the South­east,” Mayor Kasim Reed said.

Deal can fol­low the ex­am­ple of Brewer or he can do what Pence did when he takes fi­nal ac­tion on the “re­li­gious lib­erty” bill. The choice is his.

TOM CRAW­FORD

COLUM­NIST

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