On Wednesday, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe vetoed SB 41 the Religious Liberty bill. He did so because he said, "It demonizes folks. It brings fear and persecution." This is remarkable language since the word demonizes has obvious biblical connotations. And the word persecution is especially ironic since the State Department just declared persecution of Christians in the Middle East as genocide.
Georgia Governor Nathan Deal announced last Monday he will veto a similar religious liberty bill. Yet, last year our border state of North Carolina approved a religious liberty bill. And last month Georgia's border state of Florida approved a religious liberty bill.
These bills propose preventing government agencies from taking punitive actions against a person, business or religious ministry because of their beliefs about traditional marriage.
Why would these two governors not support a First Amendment right? When major corporations like Disney, Apple and even the NFL put the pressure on, it can have a significant impact. There is also the trepidation of even appearing to be discriminatory in any way.
But what about people of sincere religious faith, do they not deserve equal protection from discrimination?
Politicians theorizing about religious liberty are not the same as hearing from a religious leader. A pastor can see the personal impact of government decisions in a way a politician cannot.
Time and time again we are told there is no way any religious leader or faith community will ever be forced to marry people who do not hold to their understanding of marriage. Let's hope this will always be the case, though there is some doubt. But it is not just the pastor that believes the basic tenets of the Faith, the followers do as well.
There is a woman in my church who owns a wedding business. She helps couples plan their wedding, provides services they need to have a wedding and oversees the wedding day to make sure it is a complete success. She is a committed follower of Jesus. She was raised in a Christian home, graduated from a Christian university and attends a Christian church. She believes what the Bible teaches about marriage being between a man and a woman. She could never offer her services to a same-sex couple without violating what she believes her Faith teaches.
This woman has no animosity toward homosexuals. She has no issues with discrimination of any kind. In fact, her marriage is interracial. Yet someone could accuse her of discrimination and sue her or the state could charge her with a crime.
It has certainly happened elsewhere in America. From New York to Oregon, Christ followers who choose not to use their businesses, whether bakers, florists or wedding planners, to do same-sex weddings, have been attacked. In Oregon one couple that owns a bakery has been prosecuted and had to pay a $136,927 fine!
One of the arguments against these commonsense bills is they will force the LGBT community to support those with whom they disagree with their tax money. In other words a Christian college that receives Pell grants for their students but does not condone same-sex marriage or co-ed dorms should not receive any educational funds. A homeless shelter that has Christian beliefs and shows God's love in practical ways should not receive any government funds whatsoever. It is unreasonable to expect something you disagree with to be eliminated just because your tax money is supporting it.
However, some of my tax money is used for purposes I do not agree with or support too. I am not happy about it but I am enough of a realist to understand this is the way a democracy works. To oppose these bills because you don't like how a small amount of government money may be used is not serious but silly.
Another contention is that these bills constitute an establishment of religion. And there should no special rights or legal protections for people with religious beliefs about marriage. The religion being singled out seems to be Christianity, yet evangelicals, Catholics, Muslims and orthodox Jews all believe the same way about the nature of marriage and human sexuality. If this is an establishment of religion then all three monotheistic religions have now miraculously been merged together. This is not about forcing religion on anyone it is about the freedom to practice your religion.
A further polemic is there is not any real or imminent threat to religious liberty in these states. Just because there has not been a specific case does not mean there won't be one, maybe very soon. In health care it is called preventive medicine, in leadership it is called being proactive. We should not wait till my wedding planner congregant gets prosecuted before we act. We should provide the protection now.
When I spoke last year on my "5 Shades of Gray" message series there was a big billboard on the highway promoting it. I received a fair amount of hatred and vitriol from people who disagreed, many without ever listening to what I said. When the story was carried in national news outlets the ugliness increased exponentially. Staying faithful to the teachings of the Bible does not make you a bigot it means you are trying to be a devoted follower of Jesus Christ.
I have had the opportunity to travel on six continents. The religious freedom we experience in America is special and unique. People of faith should not be intimidated or silenced. They must be able to not just believe but practice their faith as the founders of this country intended when they established the freedom of religion.