Shameful Strategy Against Religious Freedom in Georgia

As the old song goes, “I’ve got Georgia on my mind.”  Not only because of the many loved ones I have in the great state, but also because of the current discussion about religious liberty and the deceptive strategy that some opponents of House Bill 29, the Preventing Government Overreach on Religious Expression Act, are employing.

HB 29 is a straight forward bill that should easily be passed by the state legislature.  It is most certainly not partisan legislation. After all, the federal version of the bill, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, was introduced by then-Rep. Chuck Schumer (D-New York), a very prominent liberal figure who is now one of the most powerful Democrats in the country, and it was also supported by all representatives of both parties in the U.S. House of Representatives.  In the U.S. Senate, the bill passed with similar bipartisan approval with only three senators voting against the bill--two Democrats and a Republican.  It was signed by President Clinton.

It should have strong bipartisan support in Georgia as well.  Just as it had in over 30 states before, including in Illinois where a young state senator and constitutional law expert named Barack Obama confidently voted for it.

The reason is that HB 29 is a most basic form of religious liberty protection and is in full harmony with our God-given, constitutionally-guaranteed right to be free from unnecessary government interference in the exercise of our deeply-held religious beliefs.

To be clear, the bill grants no rights to any person.  The bill simply asks the government and no one else, to be thorough when they enact a law that interferes with our right to religious freedom and expression.  The government must have a compelling reason to interfere with your constitutional rights, and it must use the least restrictive means to accomplish its purposes; there is nothing controversial about that.

Imagine how baffling it is to read Macon Judicial Circuit District Attorney K. David Cooke Jr.’s article saying that “this new law would sometimes put an individual’s religious beliefs ahead of the common good, including, even, the welfare of our children.”

Is he serious? Is he saying that former President Bill Clinton, Sen. Schumer and the rest of our elected officials in Washington were willing to put our children at risk when they passed this law in 1993? 

I mean, his comments are so laughable that I suspect that the astute people of Georgia can see right through them, but it is shameful.  It’s been 22 years since the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act.  Where are all the victims stemming from the federal passage of this law?  How about in all the other 30-plus states? Where are all the people who are “using religion” to get away with abuse?

DA Cooke says that, “one Georgia couple already has tried to use religion to justify the murder of their eight-year-old son.”  Maybe Cooke is just reflecting his own insecurities as a DA; however, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, in this new law that would help this Georgia couple get away with this type of abuse.  It is simply reckless to make that comparison.

It is comparable to a person opposing laws that protect dogs simply because children have said that their dog ate their homework.  That’s how childish that comparison is.  People say all kinds of things to try and get away with criminal behavior.  In court, people say that they are mentally impaired all the time.  Should we repeal laws protecting the right of those who are mentally impaired?

No. Cooke knows, and every Georgian should know, that anyone who commits abuse is going to face the consequences of their actions. There is no prayer that can save them. 

Certainly HB 29 will prove no help to them.  Cooke also cites another case regarding an Atlanta church.   The same thing applies; no fairly competent attorney would fail to get a conviction in the cases he cites in his column, even after the passage of HB 29.

He then cites a Utah case where the government sought information by interfering with a religious practice; however, what he conveniently fails to tell his readers is that what the court said in that case was that the government did not use the “least-restrictive means” to get what it wanted.  In other words, as opposed to what DA Cooke tries to insinuate by bringing the case to his discussion, no one is getting away with anything.  In that case, the government could obtain the information it needed in the course of the investigation without interfering with a constitutional right.  It then could prosecute any type of abuse with that information.  Is that too much to ask?

Of course it is not. Every reasonable person in Georgia knows that, which is why Mr. Cooke leaves that detail out.

The worse part about DA Cooke lending his name and distinguished position to this misguided view is that it gives credence to special interest groups like “Better Georgia,” who came out with a campaign with no basis in reality, making the same claim.

It is no surprise that Rep. Sam Teasley (R-Georgia) called it “disgusting and abhorrent.”

It is.  It is politics at its worst.  However, I still have great hope in the people of Georgia.  I am sure they will be able to rise above that type of fake outrage in order to deal with this matter which is of utmost importance to all Georgians: the protection of religious freedom.

As the old song goes, “I’ve got Georgia on my mind.”  Not only because of the many loved ones I have in the great state, but also because of the current discussion about religious liberty and the deceptive strategy that some opponents of House Bill 29, the Preventing Government Overreach on Religious Expression Act, are employing.

HB 29 is a straight forward bill that should easily be passed by the state legislature.  It is most certainly not partisan legislation. After all, the federal version of the bill, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, was introduced by then-Rep. Chuck Schumer (D-New York), a very prominent liberal figure who is now one of the most powerful Democrats in the country, and it was also supported by all representatives of both parties in the U.S. House of Representatives.  In the U.S. Senate, the bill passed with similar bipartisan approval with only three senators voting against the bill--two Democrats and a Republican.  It was signed by President Clinton.

It should have strong bipartisan support in Georgia as well.  Just as it had in over 30 states before, including in Illinois where a young state senator and constitutional law expert named Barack Obama confidently voted for it.

The reason is that HB 29 is a most basic form of religious liberty protection and is in full harmony with our God-given, constitutionally-guaranteed right to be free from unnecessary government interference in the exercise of our deeply-held religious beliefs.

To be clear, the bill grants no rights to any person.  The bill simply asks the government and no one else, to be thorough when they enact a law that interferes with our right to religious freedom and expression.  The government must have a compelling reason to interfere with your constitutional rights, and it must use the least restrictive means to accomplish its purposes; there is nothing controversial about that.

Imagine how baffling it is to read Macon Judicial Circuit District Attorney K. David Cooke Jr.’s article saying that “this new law would sometimes put an individual’s religious beliefs ahead of the common good, including, even, the welfare of our children.”

Is he serious? Is he saying that former President Bill Clinton, Sen. Schumer and the rest of our elected officials in Washington were willing to put our children at risk when they passed this law in 1993? 

I mean, his comments are so laughable that I suspect that the astute people of Georgia can see right through them, but it is shameful.  It’s been 22 years since the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act.  Where are all the victims stemming from the federal passage of this law?  How about in all the other 30-plus states? Where are all the people who are “using religion” to get away with abuse?

DA Cooke says that, “one Georgia couple already has tried to use religion to justify the murder of their eight-year-old son.”  Maybe Cooke is just reflecting his own insecurities as a DA; however, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, in this new law that would help this Georgia couple get away with this type of abuse.  It is simply reckless to make that comparison.

It is comparable to a person opposing laws that protect dogs simply because children have said that their dog ate their homework.  That’s how childish that comparison is.  People say all kinds of things to try and get away with criminal behavior.  In court, people say that they are mentally impaired all the time.  Should we repeal laws protecting the right of those who are mentally impaired?

No. Cooke knows, and every Georgian should know, that anyone who commits abuse is going to face the consequences of their actions. There is no prayer that can save them. 

Certainly HB 29 will prove no help to them.  Cooke also cites another case regarding an Atlanta church.   The same thing applies; no fairly competent attorney would fail to get a conviction in the cases he cites in his column, even after the passage of HB 29.

He then cites a Utah case where the government sought information by interfering with a religious practice; however, what he conveniently fails to tell his readers is that what the court said in that case was that the government did not use the “least-restrictive means” to get what it wanted.  In other words, as opposed to what DA Cooke tries to insinuate by bringing the case to his discussion, no one is getting away with anything.  In that case, the government could obtain the information it needed in the course of the investigation without interfering with a constitutional right.  It then could prosecute any type of abuse with that information.  Is that too much to ask?

Of course it is not. Every reasonable person in Georgia knows that, which is why Mr. Cooke leaves that detail out.

The worse part about DA Cooke lending his name and distinguished position to this misguided view is that it gives credence to special interest groups like “Better Georgia,” who came out with a campaign with no basis in reality, making the same claim.

It is no surprise that Rep. Sam Teasley (R-Georgia) called it “disgusting and abhorrent.”

It is.  It is politics at its worst.  However, I still have great hope in the people of Georgia.  I am sure they will be able to rise above that type of fake outrage in order to deal with this matter which is of utmost importance to all Georgians: the protection of religious freedom.