Religious Freedom & Civil Rights — The Devil is in the Details

Now that Labor Day Weekend and its cookouts, family time, and football are behind us, let’s have a relaxing conversation about politics and religion.

The national and local debate continues over religious liberty and civil rights in a pluralistic society. For many months, the focus has centered on whether business owners such as bakeries, florists, and photographers should be required to provide goods or services for same sex marriage ceremonies if it conflicts with their religious beliefs. Now, we have a Kentucky Court Clerk being locked up for contempt of court for refusing to issue a marriage license to a same sex couple. In Tennessee, a trial judge refused to grant a divorce to a straight couple because of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on Same Sex Marriage. (Yeah, you read it right. Go figure.) In Alabama, a state Supreme Court justice has bluntly declared that the U.S. Supreme Court has made it easier for Christians to be persecuted.

Meanwhile in Georgia, there is an objection to a Villa Rica football coach being baptized with some of his players before practice, and in Laurens County, a high school marching band is in hot water for playing Amazing Grace.   Over at UGA, there is an objection to the Bulldogs football team having an unpaid chaplain. (Personally, I will take all the help we can get to get past South Carolina, Auburn, and Alabama.)

On our state legislative front, a Georgia State Senator is accusing “far left, liberal” business leaders in our state of blocking a Georgia version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”) from passage. (After watching the video of his speech I half expected to learn that Georgia CEOs were all joining Bernie Sanders finance committee.) A prominent Atlanta radio commentator in colorful language earlier this year accused Georgia’s  legislative leadership of kowtowing to the Georgia Chamber of Commerce on the same issue. (Check it out. The analogy includes a monkey and a banana colored G-string.) Meanwhile, opponents of a Georgia RFRA bill claim that it is nothing more than a thinly veiled attack on the LGBT community while a conservative Atlanta newspaper columnist spent his column this past weekend informing readers that a Georgia RFRA really won’t do what many proponents want or opponents fear.

Activists and advocates on both sides of the recent public debates on these issues carefully cling to generalities speaking of “protecting religious freedom” or “opposing discrimination.” When forced, however, these folks will usually begrudgingly add “but . . . .” For each of them – as with most of the rest of us to be honest –their true meaning when they use these phrases comes after they say “but.”

Therefore, let’s for a moment on this blog put aside the generalities and focus here on what specific real life situations each of us want to allow or prevent when we speak of opposing discrimination and/or supporting religious freedom. For instance, should a government employee be able to defy any law for religious reasons? Should a private business be required to provide goods or services to an event they oppose on religious grounds? If so, should religious freedom also be allowed to be grounds for discriminating against someone because of their race, religion, national origin or sexual orientation in other areas such as employment, housing, or other kinds of public accommodations? If not, what additional protections, if any, should the state created by law? When and how should religious activities be allowed in public schools or on public grounds? What other real life activities are you concerned about protecting or prohibiting?

Feel free, of course, to also state your general philosophy behind your position but be specific in the real life situations you are concerned about. After all, the Devil is in the details. (Pun intended.)


  1. Robbie says:

    As a religious person and a member of a minority religion, I want religious issues kept far, far away from the government, public schools, and other government entities. I feel far safer when public institutions are secular and my religion belongs to me and me alone. I don’t want public schools to tell me how to celebrate my holidays (my kindergarten teacher tried to tell me that my family didn’t celebrate Chanukah properly), and I don’t want my religious history used as fodder for anything other than a purely historical study.

    The trade off there is that I understand that my religion isn’t always accommodated in public institutions, though I do wish it were a bit easier to observe my religion while remaining in the public sphere. For example, growing up, I always had to go to my teachers/school and get special permission to miss school days for religious holidays, while my Christian friends’ holidays were official Federal holidays and were protected. Take a look at what happened in Dekalb with the testing – by the way, the test was moved to the date of another Jewish holiday that also requires students to miss classes and attend synagogue, though it’s far less widely observed.

    I think people in the majority religion don’t realize just how normative their own religious freedom is when compared to other religions’, especially in the South.

    All of that aside, I think the part we’re missing when it comes to Kentucky is that Kim Davis isn’t a private citizen in this case – she’s an agent of the government, and that changes everything.

    • FranInAtlanta says:

      With you all the way. What I don’t know is if DeKalb deliberately did this to bring the percentage of gifted Jewish kids down to more normal levels.

  2. John Konop says:

    As all of you know, I brought up examples like this before…..Rep Josh McKoon, made it clear on this blog his bill protects all religions. What Josh wants is an employee to dictate at the work place what they will do based on religious views. As I said this will be a HR nightmare…..If you take a job, and do not agree with company legal services, products they provide…, either do it, or quite. What next, an employee at a bookstore refuses to sell the books in conflict with their religious views? We do not need Josh McKoon strengthening this behavior…. The father of the conservative movement Barry Goldwater, warned about the Josh McKoon type political BS, eventually destroying the GOP.

    Muslim flight attendant suspended for not serving alcohol

    ………..A Muslim flight attendant said the Atlanta-based airline ExpressJet suspended her for refusing to serve alcohol, a practice that is against her religious beliefs……..

    ……Lena Masri, an attorney with the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said no one “should have to choose between their career and religion.” Employers, she told CNN, must “provide a safe environment where employees can feel they can practice their religion freely.”………..

    ………”I don’t think that I should have to choose between practicing my religion properly or earning a living,” Stanley told CBS News. “I shouldn’t have to choose between one or the other because they’re both important.”……….

    • Jon Richards says:

      John, you are wrong.

      RFRA provides a standard courts should use when judging if a law infringes on religious practice. Right now, that’s federal law. If passed in Georgia, it would then include Georgia statutes.

      There’s nothing in the bill that addresses private employment practices.

  3. Jiminy Cricket says:


    ” … let’s have a relaxing conversation about politics and religion…” Now that’s just funny.

    1.) I want to know specific examples where religious liberty is challenged by GA State government. A new law must rely on observable facts to justify a true need for NEW legal protections. The most public case, former APD Police Chief seems tainted as the ex-Chief seems to have broken rank, which is why he was fired. (Maybe that will be overturned.) What other examples have we of an injured party?

    2.) Would someone please help me understand how a natural and easily understood unintended consequence of RFRA will protect and promote Sha’ria law? Under RFRA any government ruling that violates Sha’ria law would be denied. Is this the right course?

    I am very disappointed that Sen. McKoon made unfortunate statements regarding then Rep. Jacobs compromise proposal. Sen. McKoon doubled-down on the unfortunate standard and elevated himself to an anti-business antagonist by calling out GA corporate leaders.

    Politically, this is just poor timing – 2016 is a pivotal year and RFRA is as big a wedge issue as any.

  4. saltycracker says:

    “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s”

    This was not a justification for all taxes but to put the matter back into the hands of the people aka individuals, society and a nation, think secular.

    We are one nation under a God that encompasses more than Christian and Jewish religions, think Deism.

    The government is secular and must guard individuals within our society/nation.

    Issuing licenses: a secular office does not have the privilege to not issue a legal document to a qualifying individual they don’t agree with.

    Cakes: Businesses are part of society, if they are complying with their general license and no harm or material threat can be clearly demonstrated, they can do business or not do business with anyone they choose. Poor service results in a bankrupt business, a choice.

    Marriage/divorce: A religious decision by individuals and a real problem in today’s expanding secular definitions and oversight. The government needs to worry about individuals and leave these relationships to their religion.

    Legal holidays: Secular society determines these and there is no harm in attempting to do their best in respecting the cultures in our society.

    Community events: these reflect the local culture. Bands typically play all sorts of music and like barking dogs in a neighborhood, one complaint is probably a personal dislike, a larger number of complaints suggests a nuisance. Then the school/community needs to make a decision. But a catch all rule by the state, nah. I doubt a school will be up for a half time baptism or bar mitzvah on the field, but if a group wants to go have one somewhere before the game, so what.

  5. John Konop says:

    As I warned this is what RFRA logic promotes. Simple solution, Kim Davis do your job, and let God do the judging. Rather ironic how harsh judgment can feel…..

    ……….The enemy of my enemy isn’t my friend, apparently.

    The anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church doesn’t support the jailed Kentucky county clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses over her religious objections to legalized gay marriage.

    Westboro railed against Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis’ multiple marriages and apparent adultery in a series of Tweets over the weekend.

    “If Kim Davis has any real fear of God she’ll resign and move out of the house from the man she lives w/ in adultery!,” one Tweet said on Thursday afternoon………

  6. BriscoeDarlin says:

    They just let Kim out of jail. Huckabee was the MC it seems and even offered to take her place in jail! Kim’s husband was in his finest overalls. The was Hee Haw Heaven! After this circus act Huck is finished. So is Kim. I’m betting, though, she hits the pull-pitt circuit at 25k a pop! Ain’t America great?!

  7. jiminga says:

    No new laws are needed because the Constitution already provides the protections suggested. The laws and SCOTUS decisions being debated are contrary to the Constitution and the SCOTUS has created a very slippery slope by attempting to rewrite the Constitution.

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