by Mandi Ancalle
November 4, 2016
A new type of discrimination seems to be at play in Georgia, and it appears to be sanctioned by the state. Two African-American Christian men have been fired from their roles serving the state and its municipalities for holding religious views about human sexuality. People with sincere religious views are now being marginalized in Georgia, where just last year, Governor Nathan Deal vetoed a religious liberty bill saying, “I find it ironic that today some in the religious community feel it necessary to ask the government to confer upon them certain rights and protections.”
What is ironic is the fact that Governor Deal could “find no examples” of discrimination based on religion in Georgia, despite the existence of the ongoing case of Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran. Chief Cochran was removed from the Atlanta Fire Department for expressing his religious views about marriage in a devotional book he wrote on his own time. A non-profit litigation firm is litigating his discrimination case against the City of Atlanta.
It is also ironic that Governor Deal quipped, “If indeed our religious liberty is conferred by God and not by man-made government, we should heed the ‘hands-off’ admonition of the First Amendment to our Constitution.” Indeed, Georgia should follow the hands-off admonition of the First Amendment, rather than discriminating against people simply for exercising their religion and terminating those individuals’ public service.
In fact, mere months after Governor Deal made that statement, the state of Georgia fired yet another public servant because of his religious views. Dr. Eric Walsh was fired from the Georgia Department of Public Health for statements he made during sermons he delivered at his church. His sermons, delivered over a period of years prior to his being hired, included his religious beliefs and viewpoints on social and cultural issues such as health, music, marriage, sexuality, world religions, science, politics, and other matters of concern. Dr. Walsh and Georgia’s other public servants are in need of explicit statutory protections that ensure their First Amendment rights will be respected by the state.
The legislature can easily address the concerns of Dr. Walsh, Fire Chief Cochran, and Georgians across the state, particularly as it relates to their religious views about human sexuality by passing the Government Non-Discrimination Act. The Government Non-Discrimination Act is a simple bill that would ensure that the state respects Georgia’s first freedom, the freedom of religion.
Specifically, the Government Non-Discrimination Act says, “the State shall not take any discriminatory action against a person, wholly or partially on the basis that such person believes, speaks, or acts in accordance with a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction that: (1) marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman; (2) sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage; or (3) male (man) and female (woman) refer to distinct and immutable biological sexes that are determinable by anatomy and genetics by time of birth.” The Government Non-Discrimination Act goes on to define types of “discriminatory action,” which includes withholding and terminating employment, the type of discrimination Dr. Walsh and Fire Chief Cochran have experienced.
By passing the Government Non-Discrimination Act and sending it to Governor Deal’s desk, the legislature has the opportunity to reassure Georgians that religious freedom is of the utmost importance in the Peach State. And, as people relocate to the cities and countryside of Georgia to work for the state, they can rest assured that they will not be oppressed because of their religious beliefs.