Nathan Deal’s unique take on religious liberty

Kimberly Davis

Kimberly Davis
April 11, 2016

In going against the Republican establishment, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal is exercising a different type of religious liberty.

Doug Vande Griend
April 12, 2016

All that state and federal "religious freedom" statutes do is require that when a deeply held religious belief of someone clashes with government statutes enacted to achieve certain goals, the court must consider the religious beliefs as important when weighing the interests and deciding what to do. I know because I've litigated RFRA cases.

In fact, since the federal RFRA bill was enacted decades ago (supported by both parties almost unanimously), the track record clearly shows that it has predominantly been used by minorities, both in terms of race and religion, to defend against laws that clashed with their religious beliefs when they really didn't need to.

This governor was either a political coward, or simply failed to understand what RFRA and state level "RFRAs" do and don't do. Either way, this governor's state is poorer for lack of a state RFRA, as are those who statistically benefit from this kind of religious freedom law.

Lack of religious freedom laws directly diminishes political pluralism, a value both the political right and left in the United States used to hold to.

Paul Nelson
April 12, 2016

That someone with a conscience so sensitive as to be unable to serve gay people would feel the need, even the right, to demand protection for their sensitive conscience seems odd in light of Jesus call to follow in his way of grace and peace. Is this what happens when Christians hold places of power over others? Thanks to Gov. Deal for refusing to use power in that way (even if his motives vis a vis economic interests is unclear).

April 12, 2016

In Reply to Paul Nelson (comment #28071)
First, I get so tired of people acting as if Jesus accepted everyone's sin. He reached out to sinners BECAUSE they were sinners and challenged them about their sin. The woman caught in adultery was told to go AND SIN NO MORE. He didn't say go and carry on, you're fine as you are.
Second where is the individual's conscience-driven liberty -=as quoted in the article- to abstain from participating in something that they believe is wrong (in this case, same-sex marriage). What's good for the goose must be good for the gander also.
third, this has nothing to do with separation of church and state. We are talking about INDIVIDUAL rights

Paul Nelson
April 12, 2016

"Being a Christian is less about cautiously avoiding sin than about courageously and actively doing God's will." - D. Bonhoeffer

Sure Jesus was concerned about sin, but more than that, he was concerned for people to do the good and loving thing... Love God & love your neighbor. You might define love as refusing to bake a cake or to arrange flowers but I have to think that since none of those objected to baking cakes or doing flowers for the greedy, the glutton, the divorced or even the promiscuous heterosexual but only now their conscience is tweeked by gays, something very strange is going on.

I said nothing about separation of church and state but i do know that I don't need the help of the State if I am genuinely serious about following Jesus. People all over the world do it and count the cost. Only in America do Christians seek entitlement in order to follow Jesus.

Doug Vande Griend
April 13, 2016

Paul Nelson's comments are evidence of how destructive it is when a particular issue becomes hyper-politicized. Everyone who strongly opines against or threatens this or that because of the purported threat of RFRA laws to gay rights really needs to litigate a few RFRA cases. But of course that will never happen.

The effect of RFRA laws isn't anything close to what the pro-gay community have successfully made it out to be (and Paul Nelson assumes it is). It just isn't.

Of course this kind of distortion/pragmatic politicizing of something isn't new but it has reached something of a new level in this gay rights political campaign. By all measures, this distortion/politicization campaign will be largely successful, but in the long run, it's cost in terms of promoting bad government (for everyone, especially non-Christians if history is a good indicator, and it usually is), will be high.

Paul Nelson
April 13, 2016

Doug, your interest in promoting good government is laudable. I share that with you. You are correct. I like most others will never litigate an RFRA case. So, you are essentially saying to me and others like me, "Trust me! I know. You don't." In light of the way that gay people have been and are discriminated against and often just hated, not to mention physically assaulted, you should not find it difficult to understand the concern of gay people over such laws. I wonder if, in the interest of building trust, you would care to tell us where you personally come down on the issue of gay marriage?

My primary concern for this issue does not arise from a legal background but in seeking a Christ-centered ethic. At that point I am reminded that Jesus said, to those facing the possibility of political oppression that they should, "...go a second mile." Just an observation but it would seem that Christian politicians that promulgate such laws are more committed politicians than they are followers of Jesus.

Doug Vande Griend
April 14, 2016

Paul: What I'm saying is that RFRA statutes have been made bogeyman for political expediency. Hysteria helps political agendas.

Here's how RFRA came about. In Oregon, there was a native American who smoked peyote as part of his tribe's long established religious ceremonies. Because of that, he was denied a government benefit (unemployment insurance). In making that decision, the Oregon court (and eventually the US Supreme Court) decided to apply a "rational basis" test to weigh the importance of the religious perspective of the plaintiff versus the government's interest in outlawing peyote use. The "rational basis" test essentially assigns NO value to the religious faith of the Plaintiff. The other test, called a "strict scutiny" test would have required the court to regard the religious faith of the plaintiff as "also important" when balancing the interests of the parties before it.

It was this effective disregard of religious faith interests that prompted the federal RFRA, which merely says, as to cases where federal law us involved, that deeply held religious beliefs must be taken into account when courts balance the interests of government and citizens. THAT'S IT. And state RFRA statutes were needed because the cuts concluded that a federal RFRA would not apply to states and purely state law; that if states wanted their Courts to regard religious beliefs as important (not all-important), they needed to have their state legislatures pass a state RFRA. Again, THAT'S IT.

Good government IS a "Christian ethic." I don't believe in smoking peyote but I do believe Mr. Smith (the Oregon native American) deserved, as a matter of good government, justice, and social justice, his religious faith to be regarded as also important by the court in his difference with the state of Oregon. Indeed, I think all Americans should have their deeply held beliefs taken into account as also important (as opposed to disregarded) when laws clash with those beliefs.

Don't you Paul?

Paul Peternel
April 16, 2016

In what other situation have those endorsing sin called upon Jesus to advocate for them as homosexual do? Adulterers? Gluttons? The divorced? The heterosexual promiscuous?

Religious liberty, not sexual libertinism, was the foundation of this nation and so has the grounds for a preeminence of support.

Deal's cherry-picking of Romans "Every man must gove an account of himself to God" (14:12) is in a context of disputable matters, but homosexuality is clearly condemned in Romans 1:26-27 and call by the Holy Spirit "degraded passions" (NABRE).

Jesus wasn't crucified for his love, He was crucified because He finally came out of the closet as the King of the kingdom of God He had been preaching, "...I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice" (John 18:37).

Lest anyone wonder as to what that truth was, Jesus said, "If the world hates you, realize it hated me first...if I had not come and spoke to them, they would have no sin, but as it is they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father as well" (John 15:18,22-23). He said this to explain how someone so identfied with love could be hated because Jesus had spoken of love just verses before, "This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for his friends. You are my friends IF you do what I command you" (John 15:12-14).

The problem is that Jesus has been miscast since we started preaching a gospel whose "first spiritual law" is "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life." Jesus' gospel isn't the love of God, but the Kingdom/rule of God. Repentance was necessary to qualify as a citizen. And the good news is that a study of the Gospels will set the record straight, beginning with Jesus message, "After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe the gospel."

Paul Nelson
April 18, 2016

Yes, I do believe that deeply held religious beliefs are significant. As far as I am aware, there is no deeply held religious (Christian) belief concerning cake baking or flower arranging. That particular decision for "non-service" has to do with an individual's disdain for the choice of another which they are presenting as a religious belief. Religion in the first place involves a system of belief and practice held by a community of people. The guy who wanted to smoke peyote may have been a single individual but I'm pretty sure he would have been able to point to a longstanding pattern of belief/behavior of peyote smoking among his tribe. Where is the community of people holding to non-service for cake-baking or flower arranging? It simply does not exist. The issue does not exist in scripture and is peripheral to all understanding of what it means to be a Christian. Where would we be if every individual's beliefs/preferences/predilections/biases/perversions were to become the basis for law and the basis for our actions.

As for Paul's comments I can only say that he seems to be arguing that America is or should be a Christian nation. I do not agree. The kingdom of God is one thing and the USofA is not that, never has been and never will be, nor is it our job to make it so for that would surely entail the use of coercive power which is, of course, totally contrary to the example of the Lord who Paul proclaims.

Paul Peternel
April 20, 2016

No where did I suggest we institutionalize Christianity, and to introduce that accusation, Mr. Nelson, is logically disingenuous, unless you have difficulty with reading comprehension.

Also logically disingenuous is to cast the issue as simply about cakes and flowers. It isn't. To say so is to employ a rationale that would cast the fall of man about a fruit instead of the disobedience to God's command.

The aspect of holiness as set apart from participation in what defiles is exemplified throughout the OT, and Paul the Apostle clearly tells is not to be partners in people's sins in Ephesians 5.

On a side note, I'm wondering what the values of "Thinking Christian" are. Is this a biblically informed thinking or one that seeks to reinterpret Scripture in such a way as to nullify it's Originator's intent.

Doug Vande Griend
April 29, 2016

Reply to Paul Nelson
You ask, Paul, how cake making involves a deeply held religious belief. Good question, and one which the baker would have to adequately explain and defend to the court hearing the state's case against the baker for refusing to make a cake for whoever.

But you are missing, or just evading, the point. Without a RFRA law, neither the baker nor native American Smith, nor the inmate Muslim, nor the hundreds of other people who find their core faith clashing with the law are ALLOWED to EVEN HAVE OPPORTUNITY to make their argument to the court.

Without RFRA, the case is not a case but merely a lynching of sorts, which means the penalty is imposed without allowing the defendant to make her case and explain.

Even with RFRA, the cake baker refusing to bake the cake may well lose. What the gay political community is arguing, when arguing against RFRA laws, is that the cake baker, native American Mr. Smith, and the Muslim inmate SHOULD NOT EVEN BE HEARD.

That is bad government, for everyone.

Paul Nelson
April 29, 2016

Doug, you have been supporting the desirability of RFRA law throughout this conversation. Perhaps I am slow on the uptake but your last message helped me understand better your pov on this. My argument has been neither for nor against such laws. My argument is pastoral and has to do with the motivation and use of laws by people who purport to be followers of Christ but whose behavior shows them to be ill-informed as to the nature of discipleship or unwilling to love others. Thanks for the conversation.

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