Democrats may be running from religious liberty, but in Georgia, conservatives are running on it. And considering Governor Nathan Deal’s (R-Ga.) legacy on the issue, not a moment too soon.
Peach State voters put up with seven years of Governor Deal, and, as most Republicans would tell you, that was seven years too long. The quasi-conservative talked a big game on religious freedom, only to turn his back on the state when it mattered most. Now, two years after he and others killed Georgians’ hopes of passing legislation that would stop the government from punishing their faith, voters may get another crack at the bill under his successor.
In the hunt to land Amazon’s next headquarters, Deal tried to hush the state’s gubernatorial candidates, warning them that the company might not appreciate their views on religious liberty. “Religious liberty remains so popular with the GOP’s grassroots base,” the Atlanta-Journal Constitution pointed out, “that even Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who has positioned himself as the establishment-friendly Republican in the governor’s race, joined his rivals with a vow to sign [a Religious Freedom Restoration Act] if elected.”
As the race heats up, the Republican candidates all seem eager to outperform the competition. During Saturday’s debate, when the seven GOP candidates shared the stage, State Senator Michael Williams went on the offensive on the need for the same basic protections for men and women of faith that Deal vetoed. “We need a candidate that’s not going to run from that issue,” he said. Former State Senator Hunter Hill piled on. “Liberals are attacking our country, and religious liberty is a foundational constitutional principle that has created prosperity in our country. We need to stand in the gap on that important issue and deliver.”
Cagle, who some have accused of being a little more muted on the topic, banged on the podium when his opponents called him less committed to the idea. “No one has to question or wonder where I’m going to be to ensure that our protections are there as it relates to our free exercise of religion,” he thundered. “Look at my record. It speaks for itself.”
While the field narrows down, voters can take some solace in the fact that any Republican they elect is likely to be better on religious liberty than the one they have!