Published February 5, 2015
ATLANTA — Nearly 100 Georgia Baptist pastors made their presence known at the state capitol on Jan. 28 as they took a stand for religious freedom.
Speaking as one voice, the pastors filled the room at a press conference to support Sen. Sam Teasley’s introduction of House Bill 29 titled “The Preventing Government Overreach on Religious Expression Act.” If passed, Georgia will be the 32nd state to pass such legislation.
The original Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) signed into law by then-president Bill Clinton was later ruled to only apply to federal government. States have since begun to pass legislation that will protect their citizens at the local level.
The pastors were present as part of their participation in the Georgia Baptist Convention’s first annual Pastors Day at the Capitol. Organized by GBC Public Affairs Representative Mike Griffin, the event introduced the ministers to the legislative process and how they can be influential in shaping public opinion around a biblical worldview.
“Dr. White and I were thrilled to see so many pastors at our event at the Georgia State Capitol,” Griffin said. “Everyone really seemed to enjoy the opportunity to learn about the legislative process and to become educated on how to get more involved in public policy making.
“It was truly an historic event from the perspective that it was the 1st Annual GBC Pastor’s Day and attendees had an opportunity to participate in the Religious Liberty Press Conference. We are already planning for next year’s event.”
Speakers from groups such as Citizens Impact, Eagle Forum, Georgia Right to Life, and the Faith and Freedom Coalition briefed the pastors on upcoming legislation and how to involve their congregations in letting their voices be heard.
Hattaway: ‘time to stop discriminating’
GBC President Don Hattaway told the group that, “it is time to stop discriminating against people just because they have religious beliefs. Discrimination against one is discrimination against all.”
Hattaway, at the press conference, told media that he was representing 1.4-million Georgia Baptists in 3,600 churches “who believe it is time to pass what has already been passed in 31 other states. We want to guarantee religious liberty in the state of Georgia.”
Harris: ‘willing to pay any price’
Index Editor Gerald Harris added that, “there are many of us who are willing to pay any price necessary to win this war. We are not going to bow down to a Republican elephant or a Democratic donkey, but only to the Lion of the Tribe of Judah.”
Harris was paraphrasing comments made by FOX News commentator Todd Starnes who had recently spoken on religious freedom at Georgia Baptist-affiliated Truett-McConnell College in Cleveland.
Other Georgia Baptist speakers reaffirmed the common thread of the conference … that religious freedom is not limited to an hour on Sunday morning but can be practiced any day and any hour of the week.
White: discrimination ‘is not who we are’
GBC Executive Director J. Robert White told media the proposed legislation “is not about discrimination. It does not promote, nor does it allow for, discrimination against any group. Those who claim that this bill will be used to discriminate against social groups in our culture are fear mongering and have not one single shred of evidence to back their claims.”
White then closed by saying, in reference to individuals who may attempt to use the law to discriminate, “may we deal harshly with those who choose such a path. It is not who we are.”
Griffin: ‘losing our best government by default’
Later in the day Griffin, who shepherded the pastors around the corridors of the State Capitol to various offices as he explained the workings of government, stated, “We are losing our best government by default. When the righteous get involved the people rejoice; but when the wicked get involved the people mourn.”
In a related meeting earlier that day, lawmakers attended the annual Legislative Prayer Breakfast in the Empire Room at the Sloppy Floyd Building. Pastor Jeff Gongwer of Mount Zion Baptist Church in Snellville was guest speaker.
White told the early morning group that the breakfast is a non-partisan meeting where legislators are encouraged to attend to meet area pastors and receive spiritual nourishment.
Brian Prince, representing House District 127 comprised of Richmond and Jefferson County, said he was grateful for the state convention hosting the event.
Prince is a deacon at Tabernacle Baptist Church in Augusta.
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