Georgia Baptist pastors gathered at the state Capitol Wednesday to meet and greet with legislators and to discuss the controversial “religious freedom” bills being proposed that many LGBT activists say will open to the door to discrimination.
At a press conference, several pastors spoke as well as state Rep. Sam Teasley (R-Marietta), who has introduced House Bill 29, officially titled the “Preventing Government Outreach on Religious Expression Act. Also on hand was state Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus), who says he will soon be introducing a similar bill.
McKoon and Teasley continue to argue their bills will not open the doors to discrimination against LGBT people as well as a host of others despite the arguments made by Georgia LGBT lawmakers and organizations such as Georgia Equality. Georgia Baptists showed up in force to back their state lawmakers and show support for the bills, saying it is not LGBT people who face discrimination but rather Christians themselves.
Dr. Gerald Harris, editor of the Christian Index newspaper, argued it was Christianity itself which was being discriminated against and the bills by Teasley and McKoon were needed to stop the oppression of Christians.
“We’re here today because we want to sound an alarm that there is a war that is going on. It is a war on religious liberty. And it appears to me that those who are targeted are not Muslims, nor the Hindus, nor the Jews, nor the Buddhists,” Harris said.
“It seems in particular it’s the Christians,” he added. “And this is what concerns us so much today, because as we have already heard, this nation was founded on Christian principals.”
Harris went on to compare the supposed oppression of Christianity to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.
“Some have said that this is going to be the next civil rights battle of this generation. Many of us were around in the 1960s and there was a civil rights battle waged primarily by black Americans. Many white Americans sat out on that to our shame,” he said.
“I am grateful that both black and white Christians and Americans have joined together to engage in this battle,” he noted. However, all speakers at the press conference were white with black preachers sitting in the audience.
“In the 1960s they attempted to win that war through acts of civil disobedience. I don’t know where this battle will take us. But there are many of are willing to pay whatever price that is necessary to win this war,” he added to great applause.
Rev. Robert White (above), executive director of the Georgia Baptist Convention, stated the “religious freedom” bills are not about discrimination.
“Social groups are fear mongering and have not one single shred of evidence of discrimination,” he said, apparently alluding to LGBT and other social progressive groups.
“I know the Christian faith. There may be disagreements in views and theology … but if there is discrimination in this country, quite honestly it has been against people of faith. And it must stop,” White said to a rousing round of applause.
The Georgia Baptist Convention has repeatedly come out against LGBT equality, most recently showing support for ousted Atlanta fire chief Kelvin Cochran, who called homosexuality “vile” and “perverted” in his book “Who Told You That You Were Naked?” Cochran violated city policy in publishing the book, leading to him being fired by Mayor Kasim Reed. The Georgia Baptist Convention, part of the Southern Baptist Convention, has numerous anti-LGBT stances.
Sen. McKoon: ‘Glad to see the cavalry’
“This is like being at the Alamo and seeing the cavalry arrive,” Sen. McKoon said at the beginning of his remarks at the packed press conference.
“All we are trying to do with this legislation is provide everyone this room and 10 million outside this room to behave according to their conscience,” he said. “We’re divided in our country in so many ways, the one thing that should all bring together is you should be able to practice your faith as you believe.”
McKoon also said it was “important to note” that the groups opposing the bills, such as Better Georgia, which took out two full-page ads in the hometown papers of McKoon and Teasley alleging the bills could lead to child abuse, have not provided examples of discrimination that the religious freedom bills—passed in 31 other states—have led to.
On Wednesday, Better Georgia had trucks circling the Capitol with those ads (photo above).
Last year, major backlash from Atlanta’s corporations helped lead to the defeat of the religious freedom bills. Rep. Teasley said he has talked to business leaders about this year’s bill and said he has told them the legislature is not interested in getting involved in business transactions.
“My recommendation is that they do not get involved,” he said. “My conversation with attorneys [about] defining corporate says the language is not necessary because the Supreme Court already ruled and this bill does not apply to Fortune 500 companies.”
Another press conference held by Baptist leaders and other faith leaders opposing the bill was also held Wednesday at the Capitol. Read more by clicking here.
The speakers huddled for a prayer before the press conference began.