Religious values are perhaps the thing people hold closest to their hearts and they are generally unwavering. Many people also believe that our religious beliefs and exercise of those beliefs are under attack.
The Georgia State Legislature is considering legislation that is billed as protecting our religious freedoms. Senate Bill 377 and House Bill 1023 are similar pieces of legislation titled the “Preservation of Religious Freedom Act.”
Part of SB377 reads as follows:
A state entity shall not substantially burden a person’s civil right to exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability unless such state entity demonstrates, by clear and convincing evidence, that application of the burden to the person is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.
The question of “burden” is defined in the bill as follows:
‘Burden’ means any government action that directly or indirectly constrains, inhibits, curtails, or denies the exercise of religion by any person or compels any action contrary to a person’s exercise of religion, including, but not limited to, withholding benefits, assessing criminal, civil, or administrative penalties, and exclusion from government programs or access to government facilities.
Legislation such as this, and similar legislation considered in Arizona, calls into question the delicate balance of religious freedom and discrimination. The blanket, over-reach of the proposed Georgia bills essentially allows for the protected discrimination of others under the guise of religious freedom. In this case, religion would act as the ultimate defense – the trump card, if you will – to discriminate against others, simply because they run counter to your religious values. It gives everyone a “free pass” under the umbrella of religion.
In a sense, these bills have nothing to do with freedom; it’s about enforcing your religious values and discriminating against others. Once religious beliefs become the underpinning of what we can choose to do and not do under the eyes of the law, we’ve taken the power from the legislature and handed it to the clergy. When religious tenets supersede our civil laws, are we no better than a theocracy?
We have the freedom to believe whatever we want to believe. We have a Constitution and a Bill of Rights which protect our freedom to practice our religions and prevents the government from choosing religious winners and losers. But we also have our civil laws, which govern us all and must be applied equally and justly. Any attempt to carve out exceptions sends us on a slippery slope.
GA House Bill 1023: http://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/en-US/display/20132014/HB/1023
GA Senate Bill 377: http://legiscan.com/GA/text/SB377/2013
Religious freedom bill opponents pack meeting: http://www.wsbradio.com/news/news/state-regional-govt-politics/religious-freedom-bill-opponents-pack-meeting/ndbXy/
Arizona Religious-Freedom Bill Becomes Test Case: http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304834704579405511403370366
The Pros and Cons of the Preservation of Religious Freedom Act: http://www.peachpundit.com/2014/02/26/the-pros-and-cons-of-the-preservation-of-religious-freedom-act/
LifeWay Research: Pastors Believe Religious Liberty on Decline in U.S. http://www.lifewayresearch.com/2014/02/20/lifeway-research-pastors-believe-religious-liberty-on-decline-in-u-s/
State of the First Amendment: 2013 http://www.firstamendmentcenter.org/madison/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/SOFA-2013-final-report.pdf
House committee approves bill to place Ten Commandments monument on Capitol grounds: http://www.ajc.com/news/news/state-regional-govt-politics/house-committee-approves-bill-to-place-ten-command/ndbCS/
Group unveils Satan statue design for Oklahoma: http://news.yahoo.com/group-unveils-satan-statue-design-oklahoma-224102124.html