Gov. Deal officially vetoes religious freedom bill

Gov. Deal to veto religious freedom bill

ATLANTA — It's official: Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed the legislation late Monday night.

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Gov. Nathan Deal will veto the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act Monday.

According to the governor’s office:

"HB 757 doesn't reflect the character of our state or the character of our people."

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Deal’s office issued a statement Monday morning saying he would speak at 10 a.m., but did not specify what he would talk discuss.

However, sources told Channel 2's Lori Geary the governor would be speaking about the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Prior to his decision, Deal received a lot of pressure from companies, such as AMC, Disney and Google, which don't support the bill.

Speaker David Ralston released a statement following Deal's planned veto of HB 757

“I respect Governor Deal and the thoughtful consideration he brought to this discussion. I know his choice to veto this measure was not easy.

“HB 757, the Free Exercise Protection Act, was a good faith compromise measure which was the result of a lot of hard work and debate involving many interested parties of every perspective. I want to thank all who participated in this process, particularly Rep. Kevin Tanner.

“I have shared many of the same concerns expressed by Governor Deal. That is why I have insisted throughout this entire debate that any measure we passed must not only protect the free exercise of religion and faith-based organizations, but also had to include clear anti-discriminatory language. I believed, and still do, that HB 757 met the test we shared.

“It is regrettable that the merits of this measure have been ignored in the days since its passage by critics who had not taken the time to read the bill or understand the legal issues involved.

“I take pride in the leadership role the House played in making Georgia the number one state in which to do business. We all aspire to a Georgia which is welcoming, hospitable and growing. At the same time, we have a duty to the Georgians we serve -- the Georgians who live, work, play and worship here -- to listen to their concerns.”

The Metro Atlanta Chamber issued the following statement in reaction to the decision about HB 757: 

"We applaud Governor Deal for his courage in vetoing HB 757. In doing so, the Governor confirmed that there is no place in Georgia for legislation perceived as allowing for discrimination. His thoughtful deliberation and consideration on this issue has led to an outcome that preserves Georgia's positive business climate, encourages job growth and sustains our quality of life, and is truly in the best interest of all Georgians. Governor Deal has made it clear that Georgians value both our rich faith traditions and our place as a global destination for businesses and visitors alike. We share his vision of Georgia as an inclusive, welcoming state and support his decision in this important debate."

State Sen. Mike Crane issued the following statement calling for a special session after the decision.

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Several companies and businesses have been vocal in opposing the bill. Many said the bill encourages discrimination.

"The negatives will be unbelievable," said Hyatt Regency Atlanta general manager Peter McMahon.

McMahon told Channel 2’s Aaron Diamant that he figures his hotel alone could lose $1 million in business over the next 18 months if Deal signs the bill.

Deal had until May 3 to act on the bill. The governor, who is in his final term, opposed previous versions.

The measure would have barred government penalties against faith-based organizations that refuse to serve someone if it would violate a "sincerely held religious belief" or hire someone "whose religious beliefs or practices or lack of either" violate its religion. It includes language based on a federal "religious freedom restoration act," preventing government from burdening religious belief.

Public employees who refuse to perform their duties, such as a probate judge issuing marriage licenses, would not have be covered. The bill said it does not permit discrimination prohibited by federal or state law.

It would have also allowed religious officials to refuse performing gay marriages and protect any individual who refuses to attend a marriage that conflicts with their faith.