Members of the committee, I thank you for the opportunity to come before you today to express my support for SB 361.
The First Amendment of our Constitution expresses the founding idea of our country that the “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
While our Founders often used flowery language, were overly verbose, or spoke in a way that today’s high schoolers would have difficulty understanding, this language is abundantly clear: there shall be no law in this country that sets forth a singular religion that all must practice NOR will government interfere with your ability to practice your faith or live according to you conscience.
It would be naive to come before you today and say that this language has simply come to be misunderstood or distorted. There is, instead, an active, intentional, and radical effort to erase your right to exercise your religion from the Constitution.
Here in Georgia, we have seen this assault on freedom take many forms. But, where this coordinated attack is most despicable is when it invades our schools.
When our students walk through the doors of our schools, as they do their schoolwork, and engage in the curriculum our state has laid before them, we cannot in good conscience or in constitutional compliance ask them to abandon their faith. But, that is what we are doing.
The current state of our schools tells students that practicing faith in a real and genuine way is unacceptable. They are not to allow their faith to be reflected in their assignments, manifested in how they conduct their business, or seen in the lives of the faculty they spend the day with.
We punish expression and we undermine the home. This is not the Georgia we should want for our children.
In the same vein, faculty and school employees face rigorous punishment for being people of faith. We are currently offering a choice. On one hand, you can be a person of faith who sees that faith as a valuable part of who you are, OR, you can be employed by the state. Increasingly it appears that you cannot be both.
The case of Chief Kelvin Cochran garnered much attention in our state where a man of faith- who never made anyone feel discriminated against as a result of that faith- lost employment. Our teachers and faculty must today wonder whether they are next.
While the inspiration of the bill, Coach Small, did not lose his job, he was told to compartmentalize his faith- that his exercise was, in fact, prohibited- a violation of his First Amendment rights. Coach Small- and countless others like him- did not require prayer. He did not abuse his position as a school employee, nor did he ostracize any member of his team.
Instead, he served as a source of encouragement and inspiration, and he exercised no more than his foundational constitutional freedom.
Today, I encourage you to ask yourselves whether a Georgia that attacks any faith exercised on public property is a Georgia you want to live in? Do you believe a Georgia that actively communicates to our young people that faith is something to be wary of, compartmentalized, and separated from your learning experience is one that we can be hopeful about? Is it your objective to drive people of faith, of all faiths, away from public employment?
If you answer these questions as anyone who respects the Constitution, loves freedom, or has any understanding of what is needed for our state to thrive, then you know what you need to do. You need to vote for SB 361.
You need to stand up to the out of state radical groups that seek to impose their will on you, on our school boards, on our teachers and coaches, and on our students. We are looking to you for courage to to protect our freedom. I have every hope that you will.
May God Bless you, and, again, I thank you for your time.