A most-predictable fallout

Andre Jackson, for the Editorial Board.

The predictably negative national blowback from our fellow Southern states’ misbegotten steps into legislating morality in the name of religious freedom should remind all that the political axiom “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” does not always hold true.

That should be spring-sky clear by now, given the fallout from efforts to oppose same-sex marriage in the civil sphere by invoking “sincerely held” religious principles. As the economic-loss tally continues to tick upward, states such as North Carolina and Mississippi will eventually be forced to backtrack at least somewhat, we predict. We’d be shocked if political and business leaders in states that insisted on igniting this incendiary device are not now sincerely praying that the furor dies back before their states’ economies lie in ruin.

Thanks to bravery shown by Gov. Nathan Deal, Georgia did not face the prospect of economic harm ravaging our state. Deal’s veto of HB 757 held back possible damage – for now. Tennessee’s governor behaved similarly last week in vetoing a silly and unconstitutional attempt to shred separation of church and state by making the Bible the state’s official book.

In an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week, Deal said “It’s time to take another deep breath. I see what’s happening in North Carolina. I see what’s happening in Mississippi,” he said. “And I would hope that many of the ones that are pushing for it would not want the state of Georgia to go through that kind of scenario.”

Don’t hold your breath, Governor. It’s pretty certain that those who feel aggrieved and threatened by an evolving society will raise this issue again. They’re the same, allegedly pro-business crowd that irrationally sought — and failed at — an 11th-hour Gold Dome attempt this year to punish businesses for opposing state-empowered discrimination.

So it’s obvious this fight will continue to pit religious beliefs of some against the broad rights guaranteed to all — gay and straight, single, married, cohabitating, you name it. The Declaration of Independence’s ideal of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” covers all – not just those who park on conservative churches’ pews each Sunday.

We believe it is equally certain as well that the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment guarantee of freedom of religion has done a fine job overall for two centuries-plus in shielding Americans’ ability to worship God – or not – as they wish. And, as has always been the case, the courts will continue to decide the issues that arise in the margins.

Yet, it’s a safe wager that Georgia and other states will continue the brawl over religious liberty. In the South especially, the coming fights will understandably raise anew old issues that the New South has worked hard to overcome. The South cannot afford to be again labeled an unwelcoming, discriminatory place.

Today’s uproar proves that time and society have moved on. Georgia and the South must not be left behind in an advancing world and global economy. A news story from last week noted the irony that a same-sex couple worships at the same church as Mississippi’s conservative governor, who signed a stern religious liberty bill recently. Which of their rights should be denied, or improperly abridged?

That, in a microcosm, is the question now before us. We believe it is possible to resolve it in a way that guarantees liberty for all. To that end, we present today a variety of viewpoints on this topic.

Among others, an idea detailed here by a UGA law professor suggests a path to properly safeguard religious and civil liberties.

Georgia lawmakers would do well to study it as the ongoing, unfortunate battle over religious liberty heads into its next chapter.