By Gerald Harris, Editor of The Christian Index
(Originally appeared in The Christian Index on April 24, 2017)
It has happened again. The Georgia state government has attempted to censor, silence, and repress a Christian for sharing the Gospel.
Chike Uzuegbunam, a student at Georgia Gwinnett College, was repeatedly prohibited from discussing his Christian faith on campus, even after he had obtained permission to do so in one of the school’s free-speech zones.
Even after following the proper procedures and reserving space in a free-speech zone, Uzuegbunam was again told to desist, because his speech had apparently “Generated complaints” and constituted “disorderly conduct.”
Last year Georgia Governor Nathan Deal vetoed a religious liberty bill, because he didn’t think the bill was necessary even though there were at least 14 cases of individuals and faith-based groups having their religious liberty being violated.
Once again this year Governor Deal expressed his unequivocal opposition to a revived religious liberty bill. He said, “I didn’t want there to be any confusion about where I stand on the RFRA bill: I have no desire or appetite to entertain that legislation.”
Because Georgia Gwinnett College violated Uzuegbunam’s First Amendment rights the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) has filed a lawsuit challenging the Georgia college’s restrictive speech policies.
The state has already lost a significant amount of money settling the lawsuit filed on behalf of Dr. Eric Walsh. One might begin to wonder how many lawsuits the state would have to lose or settle and how much taxpayer money would have to be spent on citizens whose religious liberty has been violated.
I have wondered why the governor would be so unyielding in his stand against religious liberty legislation. Perhaps the answer can be found in one or more of the speculations below.
First, unlike Chike Uzuegbunam, perhaps the governor has not attempted to share his faith, explain the consequences of rejecting the Savior and tried to draw the net – at least on the Georgia Gwinnett College Campus. Sharing one’s faith outside the walls of a church can be risky business in today’s culture.
Second, perhaps the governor has not sat down and talked to Chike Uauegbunam, Ruth Malhotra, Kelvin Cochran, Eric Walsh or others in Georgia whose religious freedom has been scorned, stifled, and suppressed.
Third, it may be that the governor has listened to big businesses and heard their threats to curb economic growth; and he has listened to sports’ franchises and heard their forewarning about losing major sporting events and favored their appeals over the pleas of the faith-based communities.
Fourth, perhaps the governor has been influenced by his church and its theological position. Last year Dr. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said in a March 29 podcast that along with economic and political pressures, the governor’s veto “is fueled by a theological agenda as well.”
The governor is a member of First Baptist Church in Gainesville, a congregation identified with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Bill Coates, pastor of the Gainesville church, expressed his views after the 2015 Supreme Court decision to legalize same-sex marriage in all 50 states.
Coates stated: “As with most things in life, we have to balance. In this case, we must balance our esteem for the dignity of every person, gay or straight, with the harmony of the congregation we are part of. It is not easy, but it is possible. Jesus teaches us to love God and love our neighbor, just as Moses taught. We cannot love our neighbor and treat him or her as a second-class citizen at the same time.
“I say this: I do not always know what the truth is, but I can always tell what love is. I believe love is the greatest of all, and to do the loving thing will always be the right thing. Most congregations will eventually find their way there.”
So, the governor’s veto may well have been based on his theological position.
Fifth, there were so many voices demanding the governor’s attention that he forgot about the promise he made to advocate for religious liberty legislature to a roomful of pastors at the governor’s mansion in September of 2014.
Dr. Gerald Harris has served as editor of The Christian Index since May 2003. Harris has written for a variety of denominational publications, including devotions for Open Windows and HomeLife magazines. He has authored three books, "Pardoned to be Priests," "Olympic Heroes: World-Class Athletes Winning at Life," and "A Gentle Zephyr – A Mighty Wind." Dr. Harris has a master’s degree from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and a doctor of ministry degree from Luther Rice Seminary. Click here for his speaking schedule.
At any rate, while the governor has slammed the door on any kind of religious liberty legislation, the cases of First Amendment rights being violated continue to pile up. I long for a governor who will become a champion for religious liberty, and whose word is his bond.