Champion of ‘religious liberty’ battle promises the fight isn’t over

A day after Gov. Nathan Deal announced he would veto controversial “religious liberty” legislation, one of the bill’s leading champions said the governor’s decision sends a message to people of faith that they “don’t matter.”

State Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, joined members of the United Tea Party of Georgia in Suwanee on Tuesday to express his opposition to Deal’s decision to veto the legislation. The senator said lawmakers who supported the bill made “concession after concession after concession” to ensure the “modest, stripped down version” of the bill would pass both chambers and get a signature from the governor.

“There is a significant and unresolved threat to our religious liberties in this state,” McKoon said. “The governor talked about being welcoming. Welcoming, perhaps, to far left outrage groups. Welcoming, perhaps, to those who want to push people of faith underground. But when it comes to people who have sincere religious beliefs, the governor says ‘you don’t matter’.”

House Bill 757, sponsored by Rep. Kevin Tanner, R-Dawsonville, would exempt members of the clergy from performing same-sex marriage ceremonies and allow faith-based organizations to deny services to those who violate their “sincerely held religious belief” and preserve their right to fire employees who conflict with those beliefs. Critics of the bill called it an attempt to legalize discrimination, particularly against gay Georgians.

Deal said he would veto the “religious liberty” bill Monday because it doesn’t reflect Georgia’s image as a state full of “warm, friendly and loving people.”

Democratic state lawmakers, who opposed the legislation from the start, applauded Deal’s decision to veto the bill.

Critics of the governor’s decision, McKoon included, argue the corporate backlash against “religious liberty” influenced Deal to veto the legislation. The Walt Disney Co., one of dozens of corporations who spoke out against the bill, announced last week that it planned to pull its Disney and Marvel productions from Georgia if Deal signed the bill.

McKoon called the corporations’ warnings “empty threats” and said Disney’s position against the bill was hypocritical because “a significant part of the Star Wars movie was filmed in the United Arab Emirates,” a country where homosexuality is punishable by death.

“It is a crime to be homosexual in the United Arab Emirates, and the punishment is capital punishment. It is execution,” McKoon said. “The Disney Company had no problem making a film and cashing in on the location shot out in the UAE.”

Now McKoon and other legislators who support the bill are calling on their fellow lawmakers to overturn the governor’s decision. Supporters of the “religious liberty” bill argue the governor is prioritizing profit over the needs of people of faith.

Pamela Wood, of Sugar Hill, said Deal is “punishing” people of faith by making them “less of a priority.”

“He’s being too politically correct. He’s afraid to say what’s really in his heart,” Wood said. “He’s lying to himself.”

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism. Atlanta. News. Now.

Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism. Atlanta. News. Now.