Religious Freedom and Flags


Religious Freedom and Flags

Driving to visit my grandfather in rural Telfair County, I caught a glimpse of white midways up a power pole. Although the sign had been battered by the elements and faded by years of exposure, my mind instantly recalled the words formerly emblazoned on the sign: BOOT COLEMAN. I saw that sign a lot growing up as we traveled down the road. Yet, I only had a vague knowledge of the sign’s message and the controversy that surrounding the sign.

In 1956, in response to integration efforts, Governor Marvin Griffin signed legislation that added a Confederate battle flag to Georgia’s state flag. Casting aside any doubts as to the specific reason for this action, additional legislation passed that session sought to invalidate the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education and impeach Chief Justice Earl Warren. The 1956 flag remain unchanged for nearly half a century. Governor Miller mentioned changing the flag in 1992. But the idea never got through the legislature.

Then came along Roy. Governor Barnes, with the support of business interests, used every bit of political power he had and pushed a new flag design through the legislature in January 2001. The result was a cluttered design and very upset constituents.

I was a Freshman in high school at the time. As I recall, I was just beginning to wear contacts rather than glasses. My struggles in life were relatively minor compared to the battles brewing over the new flag. But I do recall seeing the signs that popped up all over my neck of the woods. Boot Barnes. Boot Coleman. The words were printed on white signs and bumper stickers, with the 1956 flag in the background. Barnes got the boot, Coleman didn’t. While it was only a decade ago, it seems like such a distant memory.  The ramifications of the flag debate are still being felt.

And as all of these memories flooded back into my mind, I couldn’t help but think of RFRA. I’m sure you’ve heard about RFRA by now. There is a significant likelihood that you are exhausted from RFRA dominating your newsfeed, inbox, or wherever you get your news.

Like the flag, RFRA seems to be drawing certain lines in the sand. Big business is afraid that it’s passage will drive businesses, jobs, and even science fiction conventions away from the Peach State. Progressives believe it will completely legalize discrimination and infringe on people’s right and liberties.

On the other side of the issue, RFRA’s supporters claim their intent is to preserve religious liberty and protect individual’s rights. Commentators are accusing Republicans of stabbing conservatives in the back. Religious leaders are upset and taking aim at anyone in their path.

And–from this millennia’s perspective–much like the initial flag change was pushed through the legislature, RFRA has been killed deftly. Throughout the session, legislators on both sides of the issue have faced concern from constituents on both sides of the issue. That won’t change. Some may get sent home after their term expires. That’s the nature of politics.

RFRA is the first truly divisive issue to come through the legislature since my generation could vote. Will RFRA have the lasting impact that changing the flag had? Possibly. But if anything, it does not seem that Georgia is poised to become a purple state. Two Democrats who coasted through primaries both lost statewide races handily last fall. On the other hand, some incumbent Republicans were ousted by more conservative primary challengers. Could RFRA be the start of a didactic dialectic shift in Georgia’s Republican Party? Maybe.

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