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Ben Boychuk

is associate editor of City Journal, where he writes on education and California politics. Previously, he served as managing editor of the Heartland Institute's School Reform News and the Claremont Review of Books. He is also a former editorial writer for Investor's Business Daily and the Press-Enterprise in Riverside, California. Reach him at

Boychuk writes a weekly column for the Sacramento Bee and Scripps-Howard News Service. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Orange County Register, the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Diego Union-Tribune, the New York PostNational Review Online, the Korea Times and newspapers across the United States.


Critics of Georgia’s religious liberty bill seem to want to have it both ways:

The bill is totally unnecessary. The bill would give state sanction to bigotry and discrimination. Well, which is it?

The answer, of course, is that neither claim is true. The Georgia bill was a necessary, if modest, corrective to a very bad trend. It was, in fact, an anti-bigotry and anti-discrimination measure.

The bill would have protected clergy and churches from secular coercion. Nobody would have been prevented from getting married. It would have protected religious organizations’ property rights as well as their right to hire and fire people whose views are consistent with their mission and beliefs. Simple really.

Gov. Nathan Deal might have said as much if he had the courage and the wit. Instead, he tied himself into knots trying to explain why knuckling under to big business and left-wing propagandists was really a victory for social tolerance and small government.

Fact is, America’s long history of religious freedom has depended greatly on favorable public opinion and the outlook of judges. If enough elected officials feel enough public pressure, the laws that provide churches and religious institutions with certain protections and benefits — tax-exempt status, for instance — will go away. So will the First Amendment, if that’s what the people want.

But what’s to prevent some future government bureaucracy from ordering a church or a minister to marry a same-sex couple or face fines and imprisonment? A judge may find a “compelling state interest” to do so. And a Supreme Court with more justices inclined to think like Elena Kagan or Ruth Bader Ginsburg rather than Antonin Scalia or Clarence Thomas may very well agree.

So never say “never.” The question is far from settled. In truth, it may be the most important question facing the country right now. Ben Boychuk is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal. Reach him at .