Deal Spox Tweets a Response to Better Georgia’s Ads Opposing Religious Liberty Bill

Earlier this week, the advocacy group Better Georgia, which was one of the loudest voices against Governor Deal’s re-election last year, published ads in the hometown newspapers of Rep. Sam Teasley and Sen. Josh McKoon, the sponsors of the religious liberty bills in their respective chambers. Teeing off on an op-ed in the Macon Telegraph written by Macon Judicial Circuit District Attorney David Cooke, the ads, and an accompanying online campaign, charge that passing H.B. 29 would allow child abusers to claim immunity from prosecution because of their religious beliefs.

McKoon and Teasley each claimed that the bill would not have the effects listed in the editorial, with Teasley taking to the well of the House Tuesday morning to assert that courts would decide that the state had a compelling interest in preventing child abuse should someone ever claim their religion allowed them to ignore child welfare laws. Under both the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act and its Georgia cousin, the state must show that a law interfering with a person’s religious beliefs does so in the least restrictive way possible, and that the state has a compelling interest in enacting the law.

While the Governor hasn’t publicly advocated for the religious freedom bill, he has indicated in comments to reporters that he sympathizes with the bill’s aims. Tuesday evening, Deal spokesman Brian Robinson replied to a tweet by the AJC’s Greg Bluestein with this:

Tuesday was Atlanta Hawks day at the Gold Dome, with appearances in both the House and Senate chambers, along with a visit to the Governor’s office.

One comment

  1. Loren says:

    I can’t say if the bill could be used successfully to challenge a criminal charge, but the construction of HB 29 seems to leave the door open for such a challenge. Because after spelling out the religious benefits created by the bill, it then goes on to carve out a few exceptions where one’s “exercise of religion” could not be used as a defense.

    Those exceptions are that the bill shall not: (1) Apply in penal institutions; (2) “Impair the fundamental right of every parent to control the care and custody of such parent’s minor children”; (3) “Create any rights by an employee against an employer if such employer is not government”; and (4) “Apply in any criminal case involving a sexual offense committed against a minor.”

    So the bill specifically creates two exceptions involving criminal offenses, and only two. One of which is limited explicitly to *sexual* offenses against minors. And the other of which protects the PARENT, not the child. I imagine the bill *could* say that it doesn’t apply to ANY felony criminal charges, or ANY violent crimes, but it doesn’t.

    Given that these exceptions are written into the bill, and no others are, I think it certainly leaves the door open for a parent to claim that certain non-sexual abuse of their child could be religiously protected as part of their “right to control the care and custody” of their child.

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