ATLANTA, Ga. – On Monday, March 28, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal vetoed HB 757, a notorious state RFRA legislative bill. Deal said that it “contained language [that] could give rise to state-sanctioned discrimination.” He added, “I did have problems with that and made my concerns known as did many other individuals and organizations, including some within the faith-based community.”
“Religious freedom” legislation in some form has been circulating within the Georgia legislature for several years. The subject attracted national attention in Spring 2015 after Aquarian Tabernacle priest Dusty Dionne spoke publicly about SB129, one of several RFRA incarnations. Dionne thanked the Georgia state legislature for its “forward thinking” on “religious freedom issues,” adding, “This new bill will create sweeping changes that will open the doors for the Wiccans within Georgian communities to worship, work, and LIVE their religion to its fullest.” While SB 129 stalled in the house, new legislation was eventually born. After HB 757 was adopted by both the house and senate, it was sent to the Governor, where it was promptly vetoed.
In his statement, Gov. Deal said, “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. When legislative bodies attempt to do otherwise, the inclusions and omissions in their statutes can lead to discrimination, even though it may be unintentional. That is too great a risk to take.”
We asked Dionne for a reaction to the recent veto. He said, “Georgia’s veto of this dangerous bill shows that those that the people of GA elected to protect themselves and make them prosperous, have the hearts needed to serve the entirety of their constituents, not just a radical minority. They deserve all of the praise given to those that protect the free world.”
Other Religious Freedom News
- Could the Christian Bible become the official state book of Tennessee? On Apr 6, the Tennessee state legislature approved the “Holy Bible” as its official state book. Within its various amendments, legislators further defined which texts were included in the term “Holy Bible.” The bill will now head to Governor Bill Haslam, where it is expected to meet some resistance. Gov. Haslam reportedly feels the legislation is “disrespectful” to what the Bible means and is. Additionally, the state attorney general has expressed concern over the unconstitutionality of the measure. Meanwhile, the ACLU of Tennessee has been watching closely and is reportedly “on ready” should the bill pass. The ACLU wrote, in part, “While the Bible is an important book to many state residents, Tennesseans come from a rich diversity of faiths. Privileging one religion over another not only tramples on the Constitution, it marginalizes the tens of thousands of Tennesseans who choose to practice other religions or not to practice religion at all.” If Gov. Haslam does not veto the bill within ten days of its approval, it will automatically become law.
- In February, we reported on the Satanic Temple’s fight to offer an invocation before a city council meeting in Phoenix, Arizona. Shortly after adopting a moment of silence in an effort to prevent the TST invocation, the city council brought back religious invocations. However, the new policy only allows police and fire chaplains to give those prayers. TST is reportedly planning to sue the city. In the meantime, the organization has been preparing to deliver an invocation at the July 6 meeting of the Scottsdale, Arizona city council. In an interview with AZCentral, TST spokesperson Stu de Haan discussed exactly what TST plans to say in its prayer. According to the article, TST will “ask the audience to reason our solutions with agnosticism in all things while standing firm against any and all arbitrary authority that threatens personal sovereignty.” However, TST may never be granted this opportunity. Scottsdale is reportedly looking for a legal way out, just as Phoenix did. This story is not yet over.
- Further north, in the state of Colorado, The Satanic Temple is taking on an entirely different religious freedom issue. Together with the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), the two organizations are challenging the distribution of the Gideons Bibles to middle and high school students in Delta County. According to reports, the school district ignored complaints from local atheist organizations, who finally turned to these national groups. After being informed about a similar situation in Orange County Florida, the Delta County school board relented and allowed all informational material. On Apr 1, children in the Delta County district were offered TST’s The Satanic Children’s Big Book of Activities, along with a number of atheist pamphlets from various organizations. While all of the pamphlets were permitted on campus, one particular one, entitled “The X-Rated Bible: Sex and Obscenity in the Bible,” was first censored with a sticker before it was allowed out for distribution. FRFF did say that it doesn’t believe schools should be a religious battle ground, but it will continue to challenge unconstitutional policies where they exist. The Delta County School District is reportedly rethinking their non-curricular information distribution policy.
- In a lengthy interview and full report, The Washington Post shares details about the infamous #Boneghazi story. The article is titled, “21st century ‘witch’ hunt: Tumblr sleuths lead authorities to person who took human bones from a La. cemetery.” In December, social media lit up with tales of human bones being stolen from a “poor man’s cemetery” in New Orleans. A dialog ensued, inciting rage and inviting controversy. In January, officials began a full investigation, while the discourse evolved into an serious and in-depth concern over local gentrification, race, class and religion.
- In a recent feature, Broadly profiled “The White Witch of Los Angeles” As the article begins, Maja D’Aoust “uses her science background to examine the world through her lecture series, tarot readings, and insightful performances as the Oracle.”
- In another article, Broadly featured a report on “The Real Witches of Salem Massachusetts.” While such a subject is not at all surprising for our readers, it may be surprising for a portion of the general mainstream population. Broadly interviewed a few local Witches from the famous “Witch City,” as well as discussing the economic aspects of the city’s unique tourist industry.
- On the lighter side, Salem’s police ran into an all-too-common modern day problem; a digital fumble, if you will. That fumble, caused by autocorrect, was particular amusing considering Salem’s witchy reputation. The error made social media rounds and provided many people with a good laugh. In March, the city’s police tweeted the following:
The parking ban ends at 10am. Please remove cats from school lots asap.
— Salem MA Police (@SalemMAPolice) March 21, 2016
Beyond the U.S.
- According to The National, religious belief and affiliation is on the decline in Scotland. The article reads, “The Scottish Social Attitudes survey show 52 percent of people say they are not religious, compared with 40 percent of those who were asked in 1999 when the survey began.” Despite the overall decline, the article also notes that local Pagan organizations have reported an increase in those identifying as Pagan.
- A similar article was recently published in The Reykjavik Grapevine. According to this article, “Church membership has declined by about 10% since 2009” in Iceland. However, just as reported in Scotland, “registered Pagans [in Iceland] are on the rise.” The article reads, “Registered members of the Zuists have increased by over 3,000 over the past year. The faith professes worship of the ancient Sumerian gods, but also promises to refund government religious subsidies to its members. At the same time, members of the Ásatrú Society – which follows the rites and ethics of the Old Norse gods – have also increased, by over 500 members.”
- According to the New York Times, the indigenous women of North Africa’s Amazigh, also called the “Berber” women, “have banded together to fight political Islamism, polygamy, child marriage, and impunity for perpetrators of domestic violence.” Their matriarchal traditions and language are currently being threatened. The article profiles their unique culture, as well as their fight against terrorism and other forms of oppression.
- The Washington Post published an article titled, “Rare photos show the lives of Russia’s forgotten Mari Pagans.” The article reads, “The attempted suppression of the nature-worshiping Mari has a long and dark history.” The article details that history, as well as their struggle against oppression. In photos and words, the article also highlights the unique and vibrant, living culture of the Mari Pagans.
- Lastly, Witches aren’t only for Halloween. According to The Daily Mail, “little Witches” come out to cast spells every Easter in Finland. “small colorful witches appear on Finnish doorsteps in a blend of eastern and western religious traditions related to spring. They hand over catkin branches, reciting healthy wishes in exchange for payment that is traditionally chocolate or other candies.”