DA critical of religious-liberty bill has ties to left-wing group opposing it

When critics of Georgia’s proposed religious-liberty bill get to scare-mongering, they have a tendency to promote it as a kind of final word, as if people of faith could start breaking existing laws, claim “religious liberty!” and that would be that. In fact, the bill — like the federal law on which it is based, and with which we have much experience — merely tells courts which legal standard to employ in judging religious challenges to state and local government actions. It sets a high bar for government to clear, no doubt, but it’s a bar government has cleared many times, including all past examples of the types of cases critics have evoked during the current debate. It is a far cry from the “license to (fill in the blank)” opponents portray.

It’s one thing when people of no legal background make such claims about the bill. But it’s rather curious when people who work in the legal profession do so.

David Cooke

David Cooke

So last month when Macon’s district attorney, David Cooke, wrote an op-ed in which he claimed the bill “could allow a person to ignore Georgia’s child welfare laws by claiming ‘deeply held religious beliefs,'” it made me wonder. Not least because Cooke included in his op-ed two examples of people in Georgia who have already committed the kind of abuse in the name of religion he claimed this bill would give rise to. Those people were convicted of their crimes, and there is no doubt that preventing child and spousal abuse would remain a “compelling government interest” under the new law, and that prohibiting abuse is the “least restrictive way” of meeting that interest. In a third case Cooke mentioned, about a witness in a Utah child-labor case whose refusal to testify on religious grounds was upheld by a judge, Cooke failed to mention that the judge went along with the refusal expressly because there was a less-restrictive way to get the same information: having other witnesses testify. That case is still proceeding.

I did not find it terribly surprising, then, that there are links between Cooke and the left-wing outfit, Better Georgia, that about a week after his op-ed appeared placed newspaper advertisements opposing the bill based in large part on his thoughts.

A Better Georgia employee, Louis Elrod, managed Cooke’s successful 2012 campaign for the DA job. Better Georgia mentions this on its website, and filings with the state ethics commission confirm as much.

Elrod Better Georgia Highlight

In 2013, other ethics filings show, Cooke’s campaign paid Better Georgia $250 for a “sponsorship” and another $500 for event tickets.

Cooke Better Georgia Expenditures

Better Georgia is — how to put it politely? — not known for its fealty to truth when leveling its attacks. (See here for an example of a “pants on fire” falsehood the group repeated during its fund-raising.)

Claims the bill would legalize discrimination don’t stand up to the historical record of similar religious-liberty bills on the federal level and in a majority of other states. The notion this bill would provide legal cover for child and spousal abuse is similarly baseless. It looks an awful lot like fodder for a group desperately seeking an actual justification for opposing the bill.

Reader Comments 0

54 comments
HeadleyLamar
HeadleyLamar

 When critics of Georgia’s proposed religious-liberty bill get to scare-mongering,


I wish that were all there was too it


Whenever a group that isn't being persecuted ( Christians ) and is solid in the majority starts talking about how they are being persecuted etc.


Hold on to your hats because it isnt going to be good.

Jefferson1776
Jefferson1776

No need for legislation, loonies is what they are.

Finn-McCool
Finn-McCool

Kyle, why do you think we need this bill?

Finn-McCool
Finn-McCool

He's a DA? Is he even old enough to work in Georgia?

DontTread
DontTread

This is the same kind of scare tactic the Liberal Left attempted to employ when concealed-carry permits were issued, and when "castle doctrine" and "stand your ground" laws were passed.  ("This law gives people license to murder.")


This illustrates how much they hate it when people they don't like exercise freedoms they don't agree with - and how far over the edge they will go when those freedoms are codified, expanded, or otherwise protected by law.

MarkVV
MarkVV

So Kyle has come back with another defense of a proposed law, for which he cannot show any need to  be passed other than that some other states have such laws and that there is a federal one, but this time with a new twist – a DA opposing the bill has left-wing group ties! Duh!

IReportYouWhine
IReportYouWhine

This law only comes into effect after certain legal triggers have been pulled, most notably would be the government forcing you to do something against your will or somehow abridging on your freedom.


How can anyone be against this?

IReportYouWhine
IReportYouWhine

It's what they were taught in the public school system, that Christians are just itching to abuse some child. That and few other things.

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

A district attorney is an elected or appointed public official of a county or designated district whose duties are governed by state law. Generally, the duties of a district attorney are to manage the prosecutor's office, investigate alleged crimes in cooperation with law enforcement, and file criminal charges or bringing evidence before the Grand Jury.

Kinda went above and beyond with his drama queen play, didn't he?

I rule he was "misleading" the witnesses.

schnirt 

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

Kyle: " false suggestions about the bill."


Most of those false suggestions are coming from Christian Conservatives.  Can you write an article critical of them? (and them possibly being supported by "funny money" conservative groups?) 


Especially the "erotic liberty" thing.  That needs to get more legs and go! 

fairlybalanced
fairlybalanced

Yawn. How is this news? Why not cover the need for vs. the potential dangers of the actual bill rather than trying to draw links between those who oppose it? Doesn't it make sense that a progressive D.A. who prosecutes child abuse cases and a progressive organization would both be opposed to the inappropriately-named "religious freedom" bills in Georgia? 


I've yet to hear one convincing argument about why we need this bill in Georgia. What will it do that the First Amendment does not? Further, haven't a huge number of religious leaders come out in opposition of this bill?

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

Don't give a fig about the RLA, but dismayed that  Bibb Co would elect such a progressive loon. 

MHSmith
MHSmith

Oh the poor atheists do bemoan these religious zealots calling for more laws to protect their faith.

Mr_B
Mr_B

Under this act, will Gwinnett County Muslims be allowed to pray in a strip mall?

Mr_B
Mr_B

This thing strikes me as being in the same vein as various "voter fraud prevention" laws: a solution in desperate search for a problem.

Aquagirl
Aquagirl

This was worthy of a post? Slow news day, Kyle?

straker
straker

Kyle - "their free-exercise religious liberties"


And yet, you can't tell me exactly WHAT "free-exercise religious liberties" they want that they don't have NOW.


Does anyone know?


Is the Legislature supposed to pass this bill not knowing?


Now THAT"S confusing.

EconoPol
EconoPol

One thing you're missing is that the Supreme Court limited RFRA's reach by holding that it could go no further than the substantive rights the 14th Am. already guarantees. The Georgia legislature can, of course, go further. So the fact that Federal RFRA, as limited by SCOTUS, does not protect certain conduct does not necessarily mean that the Georgia version wouldn't.

straker
straker

"show a compelling interest in infringing on their liberties"


Kyle, once again, exactly WHAT liberties are they talking about?



straker
straker

Kyle


Exactly WHAT laws are these "religious objectors" objecting to?

straker
straker

Kyle, maybe you can tell us exactly WHAT religious liberties these supporters want that they don't have now.

TBS
TBS

Are there any legislators who are for this bill tied to any groups via donations, membership or both who are backing this bill? 

I have no issue with the Macon DA's ties being pointed out, however it would be nice if you would tell the whole story in terms of those who might actually be voting on this bill. 

AvailableName
AvailableName

If as you say, the bill only sets out a standard of proof that is already in effect, why enact the bill? Is this just red meat for the base?  If so, I'd rather the General Assembly spend its time on substantive legislation.  If the bill does indeed have substance, I'd like to hear a debate on it, not an attack on its supporters.  

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

1) So, what WILL this bill do that the first amendment and current laws do not already do? Every time I research responses to this question, I find that current law or the first amendment cover everything the "religious liberty" bill tries to do. 


2) and faint all you want on your fainting couch, but Democrats and Republicans have ties to liberal leaning and conservative leaning groups.  It's kinda how things work nowadays.  


So when I read about someone critical of a right-wing bill, it makes sense they have ties to a left-wing group. "No Duh". 



NorthAtlanta
NorthAtlanta

@Aquagirl

I think it's pretty obvious why it's worthy of a column.  It's strange that anyone would say otherwise. And did you happen to notice how many articles have been run in the AJC about this issue already, and especially about Cooke and his opposition?  Did you say the same thing then?

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@straker "And yet, you can't tell me exactly WHAT "free-exercise religious liberties" they want that they don't have NOW."

And yet, I've already told you it's not about new liberties. At some point,I have to conclude you're just trolling.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@straker Their free-exercise religious liberties. Is this really that confusing?

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@straker "Kyle, maybe you can tell us exactly WHAT religious liberties these supporters want that they don't have now."

They are not asking for any additional liberties. They are asking that state and local governments show a compelling interest in infringing on their liberties in the future, and that any such action be the least restrictive means of achieving that interest.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@TBS "in terms of those who might actually be voting on this bill. "

Well, if the bill comes to the floor of both chambers, 236 legislators will vote one way or the other on it.

As for the sponsors, I don't think either Rep. Teasley or Sen. McKoon is doing anything to hide the fact they're conservative Christians.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@AvailableName "If as you say, the bill only sets out a standard of proof that is already in effect, why enact the bill?"

It sets a standard for state and local governments in Georgia that is already the rule for the federal government and for state and local governments in a majority of other states.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@LogicalDude "So, what WILL this bill do that the first amendment and current laws do not already do?"

The bill would allow religious objectors to be exempted from state/local laws that are generally applicable (i.e., neutral toward religion) unless the government had a "compelling interest" at stake and the law in question was the "least restrictive means" of achieving it.

Currently, that's the standard for challenges to federal laws, and to state/local laws in a majority of other states.

As for your second point, do you recall any reports about Cooke's political associations before now? Do you think they might be relevant when considering his opinion about this bill?

MHSmith
MHSmith

@Kyle_Wingfield @Mr_B 

Not to mention, when on private property you must have the property owner's consent before you can carry on any religious activity. Otherwise, you are probably going to be told to stop your activity and leave the owners property before they have you hauled off to jail for criminal trespass. 

Don't you love how the GOD and Religion haters drag up these straw-man arguments, Kyle?


Little do they seem to know or be bothered with the fact that the Atheist's "human secularism" is an organized religion and religious faith in, of and to itself. 


Aquagirl
Aquagirl

@NorthAtlanta I can see covering the subject of the bill, but not muttering about the DA's connections to a left-leaning group. After all, it's not like he invited a bunch of Agenda 21 paranoid loons to make a presentation. 

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@straker If you aren't going to bother to read my responses, I'm not going to bother to publish your repetitious questions.

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

@Kyle_Wingfield @straker Covered by the first amendment.  And yes, trying to push a bill so vague is confusing. 

You can claim "it won't be used for this" or "it won't be used for that", but the language is so vague, it COULD be used for any of those things.  And supporters of the bill aim at just those things to make the bill popular. 

TBS
TBS

@Kyle_Wingfield @TBS


Not what I said and you are fully aware of that.

Do you think that the Macon DA's political leanings to some extent were not known before this OpEd? 

Your article to say as you wish but what is good for the goose is certainly good for the gander

I don't think the DA whose ties you pointed out will be voting on this bill but those in the legislature will be voting on it. 


Thanks for the exchange.

Have a great day

peace

AvailableName
AvailableName

@Kyle_Wingfield @AvailableName Slow to come back and check the comments; but, the First Amendment prohibits the same thing by any government with the same standard of proof.  Still don't see the need for this law.  

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

@Kyle_Wingfield @LogicalDude Never heard of Cooke before now. :) 


Did you know some Republican Senators took Koch money? Were you shocked by this? Outraged?  Laugh at liberals who were outraged by this? 


Same thing to me.  I expect politicians of a certain stripe to be supported and tied to entities of a certain stripe.  Your article trying to act like "Look! Look!  See? See!!??  Liberals are supported by LIberals!" just looks like whining for the sake of whining. 


That being said, I have no idea if Cooke is a Republican, Democrat, or otherwise.  But being opposed to this bill and being supported by a liberal organization really does not surprise me. 

TBS
TBS

@Kyle_Wingfield @LogicalDude


So how many known cases of individuals being impacted would have not been impacted had this law been in place?

Not implied, would of,, should of and could haves but known cases and the substantiation. 

Democrats do it as well but this bill is nothing more than mostly trumped up nothings to pander to the religious segment of the conservative base.  There might be a few people who don't fall into that category who are or this bill but let's be honest about what is going on here.


Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Aquagirl "After all, it's not like he invited a bunch of Agenda 21 paranoid loons to make a presentation."

The fact you know about that means someone once wrote about it ...

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@LogicalDude "You can claim "it won't be used for this" or "it won't be used for that""

Actually, I'm saying "this" and "that" wouldn't be upheld by courts, based on precedent. People can try to make all sorts of claims based on religion (or whatever). As the post indicates, they already do. This law would more clearly delineate when they're right about those claims.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@TBS "Not what I said and you are fully aware of that."

No, I thought you were asking me about the ties of a) "legislators who are for this bill," which at this point (publicly anyway) means the sponsors, and b) "who might actually be voting on this bill." I answered those questions. What else did you mean?

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@AvailableName Actually, the First Amendment's standard is "no law," which we all know isn't how those rights are handled in practice.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@TBS Was it pandering when Congress unanimously passed and President Clinton signed the federal version of the RFRA law back in 1993? No, it was a direct reaction to a Supreme Court ruling that changed the standard away from what I've described (compelling interest/least restrictive means).

That standard previously applied to Georgia through earlier SCOTUS rulings, and it applied to Georgia under RFRA until 1997, when the court said Congress couldn't pass such a law covering state and local governments. I don't know why Georgia lawmakers haven't already done as lawmakers in about 30 other states and passed a state version, but it's a hard sell to suggest there's anything wrong with doing so now.

TBS
TBS

@Kyle_Wingfield @TBS


You are deflecting because you know it is pandering.

Reread my comment where I said "Democrats do it as well............"

If you misunderstood I was saying that Democrats pander as well and that is exactly what the Republicans in the legislature are doing on this very bill.

No need to deflect to the US Congress and Clinton. Address the current bill in the GA state legislature and who is tied to whom

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Visual_Cortex "Ah, so this is payback."

So now adhering to the same standard is "payback"? No, I just think -- and I know this is a zany thing for a journalist to believe -- the public ought to have this kind of information, as was also the case with the Agenda 21 thing.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@TBS "No need to deflect to the US Congress and Clinton."

I don't think it's deflection at all, considering we are talking about the exact same piece of legislation. Why are Georgia Republicans "pandering" now, if Clinton and Congress weren't pandering before?

TBS
TBS

@Kyle_Wingfield @TBS


Where did I say Clinton and Congress didn't pander?

For the third time to reiterate  your purposely ignoring of my comment...... "Democrats do it was well....."

And as for Clinton when I have I ever been the defender of all things Clinton except for never? 

Thanks again

Have to run

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@TBS Why do you insist on making this a partisan thing? I'm pointing out a precedent in which Clinton and Congress did the right thing for the right reasons, and suggesting Georgia legislators are doing the same now. You're the one who keeps dragging partisanship into the equation.

As I mentioned earlier, in Congress -- both houses -- the bill was approved without opposition. So there's not a partisan angle here. Note that even with regard to Mr. Cooke and Better Georgia, my point is about ideology, not party. I expect lots of Democrats in Georgia would vote for a bill like this -- or would, if they hadn't been brow-beaten with false suggestions about the bill.

TBS
TBS

@Kyle_Wingfield @TBS


Brow-beaten?

Hilarious.  We know there is not one iota of brow-beating and  hyperbole in this pandering to the social conservatives here, don't we?  

Were you able to get a list of substantiated cases that would have not occurred had had this bill already been in place? 

Or are you just pandering with hyperbole and doing some brow-beating?

You folks are are backing this bill are just coming up with a problem so you can say you solved it.......... pandering to the social conservatives as I have already stated.

Nothing more, nothing less