By Samantha Ward
News broke on Monday, March 28, that Governor Nathan Deal was prepared to veto a group of bills known as the “Religious Liberty Bills.” Already passed through legislature, in essence these bills would give individuals, nonprofits, and businesses the right to refuse service to certain individuals based on religious beliefs.
Janet Frick, Associate Department Head for Psychology and member of the Oconee Street United Methodist Church, said, “. . . The claim is that they are to protect individual people’s right to free expression of religion, and not compelling them to perform acts that are in opposition to their religious faith. But in reality, they would open the door to businesses discriminating against gays and lesbians in similar ways to how businesses used to be able to discriminate against blacks.”
The most common example given to explain the implications of the bills is that they would allow Christian bakery owners to refuse to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding if the owners saw it as infringing on their beliefs. However, the bills would have allowed far more than just that.
“There was an uproar because many people were stating that it was a form of lawful segregation,” said Sophia Ramirez, a first year Biological Sciences major with pre-med intent, “but in my opinion it wouldn’t have been passed because it was unconstitutional to begin with . . . It’s quite subjective because you can’t tell someone is this that or the other by just looking at them. This bill relies heavily on opinion and judgment.”
Though it didn’t pass in Georgia, similar bills have now passed in Indiana, Mississippi and North Carolina, and many corporations are already showing their displeasure with the bills. Some say that is why Governor Deal vetoed Georgia’s religious liberty bills.
Frick said, “I think the legislators who voted for this wanted to show they have votes in favor of issues important to religious conservatives. However, in this case, the power of the business lobby trumped the power of the religious lobby, at least in Georgia.”
Considering this group of bills addressed more than just businesses, some have mixed feelings about the veto.
Justin Starner, a fourth year Computer Science major and member of the Athens Church, said, “I agree that ministers should have the right to choose whether or not they want to perform a marriage, regardless of sexual orientation. I do not, however, think businesses should be allowed to deny service to individuals based on religious beliefs or sexual orientation.”
Jay Morris, a fourth year Health Promotion and Behavior major and student ambassador for the LGBT Resource Center, said, “I definitely am a proponent of being able to practice your religion and have your beliefs and not be discriminated against for that, but I also don’t agree with using those religious beliefs to discriminate against someone else.”
Though these bills were vetoed, the possibility of seeing similar bills in the future looms on the horizon for Georgia and almost certainly for other states across the country.
Morris said, “I definitely think there are going to be more of these bills, definitely a lot of these bills being reconstructed so that the language is different, and maybe even creating a bill that does protect religious freedom but also doesn’t discriminate against the LGBT community because I don’t think that those are mutually exclusive things.”
This is an issue affecting many individuals, and as Frick stated, it will be important to watch how it plays out around the country.