Governor Nathan Deal has vetoed the so-called Religious Freedom bill, saying that he wants to keep Georgia "a welcoming state."
The Georgia General Assembly had passed a measure that would allow faith-based organizations the ability to discriminate against people based on their religious view.
Deal said in a press conference that the U.S. Constitution lays out the extent of religious protections. He referenced the three-month debate on the bill that included different versions and legislative dealmaking.
"It illustrates how difficult it is to legislate on something that is best left to the broad protections of First Amendment of our Constitution," Deal said.
Over the last few weeks organizations in the business community spoke out against the proposal, saying it would hurt Georgia's economic climate.
Meanwhile those supporting the bill warned that a Deal veto would show he didn't have commitment to their cause.
Deal's response: "I don't respond very well to insults or threats."
You can read Deal's full remarks here.
State Rep. Allen Peake, a Republican from Macon, was not surprised by Deal's veto.
"It went further than what our intentions were as far as to potentially discriminate against those because of their sexual orientation," said Peake.
Peake also says the matter was a personal one because he has a gay brother.
"I had promised him that I would not vote for any bill that would potentially deny service to him or any of his friends who happen to be gay," he said.
State Sen. Mike Crane, who supported the bill, called for the state General Assembly to return for a special session to override the veto. Crane is a Republican who is running for Congress in Georgia's 3rd District.
“Today, we saw exactly why our government needs committed conservatives who never stop fighting to protect the Constitution," Crane wrote on his campaign website.
Sen. Steve Henson (Tucker), leader of the Georgia Senate Democrats, issued the following statement on Gov. Nathan Deal's veto of House bill 757, Religious Freedom:
"Senate Democrats are pleased Governor Deal has vetoed HB 757. His veto statement was thoughtful, invoked First Amendment rights and the clear thinking of our founders. The damaging consequences to our state and our citizens, if this measure had been signed into law, were significant.
"Democrats have known all along that the various versions of the so-called religious freedom bills were discriminatory and HB 757 was an unfortunate and mean-spirited response to last year's Supreme Court decision on same sex marriages.
"As a caucus, we have stood against discrimination in all its forms and will continue to do so. Discrimination against Georgia's citizens is wrong and bad for business."
State Sen. Josh McKoon (R - Columbus), one of the most visible supporters of the religious liberty proposal, said he's disappointed by the governor's veto. McKoon promised that a similar measure will come up next year.
During an interview with "On Point", McKoon said the final version of the bill aimed at religious organizations to narrow what was protected. "We made sure there was not a provision aimed at business owners." Jeff Graham, executive director of the LGBT advocacy group Georgia Equality, has issued a statement on Deal's decision.
“We thank Governor Deal for doing the right thing and rejecting this dangerous bill which would have caused irreparable harm to Georgia’s economy, and to the hundreds of thousands of hardworking LGBT people who call Georgia home. On more than one occasion, the governor thoughtfully explained his opposition to discriminatory bills like this – bills which do nothing to advance religious freedom, but do stand to do real harm to our state’s economy and reputation.”
Update 2:01 p.m.
The AJC has compiled an extensive list of reactions from various groups:
Critics of the legislation:
The Metro Atlanta Chamber:
“We applaud Governor Deal for his courage in vetoing HB 757. In doing so, the Governor confirmed that there is no place in Georgia for legislation perceived as allowing for discrimination. His thoughtful deliberation and consideration on this issue has led to an outcome that preserves Georgia’s positive business climate, encourages job growth and sustains our quality of life, and is truly in the best interest of all Georgians. Governor Deal has made it clear that Georgians value both our rich faith traditions and our place as a global destination for businesses and visitors alike. We share his vision of Georgia as an inclusive, welcoming state and support his decision in this important debate.”
Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau president William Pate:
“ACVB thanks Governor Deal for his deliberate and swift action on HB 757. His decision will sustain Georgia’s position as the No. 1 state in which to do business and will benefit all Georgians for years to come.”
Georgia Hotel and Lodging Association executive director Jim Sprouse:
“The Georgia legislature acted in good faith trying to address constituent concerns. Now, Gov. Deal has stepped forward as a leader for all Georgians — as he has the last six years — deliberate and determined to make and keep Georgia the number one state to do business. Thank you, Gov. Deal, for your leadership.”
“Diversity and inclusion are important parts of AT&T’s culture and operations. We’re proud to be recognized as a leader in this area, and we applaud Governor Deal for keeping Georgia welcoming to all.”
Rep. John Lewis, D-Atlanta:
“It says something about the distance we have come and the progress with have made that so many established forces in our community pulled together to stop discrimination from taking hold. It tells me that the values advanced by Martin Luther King Jr. are still reverberating in our society today, especially in the state where he was born, and in some cases, those values have been embraced as the standard of human decency.”
Democratic operative Tharon Johnson:
“The Governor made a politically courageous decision that reaffirms the constitutional right of all citizens to be treated fairly and justly, and preserves Georgia’s long-standing commitment to economic growth and prosperity.”
Eric Tanenblat, a longtime Republican operative in Georgia:
“Nathan Deal’s legacy as governor will be one of economic vibrancy. His veto action today is in keeping with that. Deal faced tremendous pressure from activists on both sides, but he rose above the fray to act in the interest of the entire state. Nathan Deal is a man of integrity and of faith, and one who believes in the proper constraints of a conservative limited government.”
Supporters of the legislation:
State Sen. Josh McKoon, a Columbus Republican:
“The question we have to resolve is whether or not government is going to be used to punish people with a particular point of view. I see that in my state. I fully expect we’ll be back next year debating this again.”
House Speaker David Ralston:
“I respect Governor Deal and the thoughtful consideration he brought to this discussion. I know his choice to veto this measure was not easy. HB 757, the Free Exercise Protection Act, was a good faith compromise measure which was the result of a lot of hard work and debate involving many interested parties of every perspective. I want to thank all who participated in this process, particularly Rep. Kevin Tanner. I have shared many of the same concerns expressed by Governor Deal. That is why I have insisted throughout this entire debate that any measure we passed must not only protect the free exercise of religion and faith-based organizations, but also had to include clear anti-discriminatory language. I believed, and still do, that HB 757 met the test we shared.
It is regrettable that the merits of this measure have been ignored in the days since its passage by critics who had not taken the time to read the bill or understand the legal issues involved. I take pride in the leadership role the House played in making Georgia the number one state in which to do business. We all aspire to a Georgia which is welcoming, hospitable and growing. At the same time, we have a duty to the Georgians we serve — the Georgians who live, work, play and worship here — to listen to their concerns.”
Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle:
“The Georgia General Assembly worked hard to find the right balance on this most challenging of issues. An important and legitimate concern has been largely lost in the hyperbole and criticism surrounding this debate: our state can and should take an active role in protecting the right of individuals to practice their faith without government interference. I’ve always advocated for Georgia’s status as the number one state to do business, but as we move forward I will never lose sight of the importance of an individual’s right to practice their faith. This principle will continue to guide my actions going forward.”
Dave Baker, executive director of Faith and Freedom Coalition of Georgia:
“This is unfortunate. This bill not only had the overwhelming support of both houses of the General Assembly but also the people of Georgia … This was a compromise bill, and we made sure it protected people of faith without discriminating against anyone. We think this is an unfortunate decision by the governor.”
The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights:
“If Gov. Deal were honest, he would say that the pressure coming from the corporate elite was overwhelming and that it threatened to cause economic ruin to his state. Even men and women of faith could understand why he would veto the bill.
“Instead, he justified his veto saying, “I do not respond very well to insults or threats.” That is a lie—he responds very well to threats. Indeed, it is precisely the kinds of threats issued by the NFL, Disney, and Marvel Studios that made him cave: the NFL threatened to deny Atlanta a future Super Bowl, and Disney and Marvel threatened to relocate.”