On January 9 the Georgia General Assembly will convene for its 2023 legislative session.
This year is set to begin what will be the first of a two-year legislative cycle. Therefore, new legislation will be introduced to the Georgia General Assembly. It is not uncommon that over a two-year period, Georgia Baptists will monitor anywhere from 25 to 30 pieces of legislation, covering approximately 18 or more subject headings.
As many of you know, last year was one of the most successful years we have had at the Capitol in terms of passing good legislation and stopping bad legislation. In 2022, we monitored at least 27 bills covering 18 legislative subjects. Out of those 18 subjects, we supported 13 bills in those areas of legislation.
So, once again we will be facing a new slate of bills that will be covering a wide range of subjects. I am anticipating at least four areas of focus.
For the first time in 50 years, we will be facing a legislative session with Roe v. Wade having been overturned by the Supreme Court. In addition, the 2019 Heartbeat Law is now in effect even as the Georgia Supreme Court is working on a final ruling.
With these facts in mind, we still need to continue to work on legislation and regulations that do a better job of protecting all innocent human life. Whether it’s updating the Heartbeat Law or better regulating chemical abortions, we must be vigilant in doing all we can to protect the health and safety of all mothers and babies.
While we would all love to see abortion ended in Georgia, we must realize that until that can be accomplished, we have to continue to educate and legislate on this issue. We must make sure we do so with sound reason and prudence so that we don’t do more damage than good in reaching the ultimate goal.
If we proceed with only the goal of “saving all babies in the womb or none,” we will damage the progress we have made with the Heartbeat Law that has already saved thousands of lives. We cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good until we can get to the perfect. We must continue to save as many lives as possible until we can save them all!
Protecting and enhancing religious freedom must remain one of our top priorities in the state. It is important for us to understand, whether we are religious or not, that the first freedom that we were given is freedom of religion!
The Founding Fathers knew that the Government was never to tell us what we can or cannot believe. Furthermore, we cannot be treated as second-class citizens for those beliefs. Nor should we be considered unfit for public service because of those beliefs, as in the cases of former Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran and Dr. Eric Walsh.
This is the beauty of the First Amendment. As a citizen, you can worship, who, what, where, and when you want to, or you can choose to not worship at all. And this worship has the right to transcend a place of worship into the free exercise of that faith in a citizen’s everyday life. This is our conscientious right as Americans!
We started working eight years ago by trying to pass a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) in the Georgia General Assembly. We are not intending to give up on this important protection for our citizens. Stay tuned as we make sure Georgians have full religious liberty protection in practicing their faith and doing missions in the state of Georgia. (Click here for more info on RFRA: https://vimeo.com/252717648)
This will be the eighth year of intense effort by the predatory gambling industry to push more gambling on Georgians. This kind of gambling includes activities such as casinos, pari-mutuel betting on horses, and sports betting.
You see, the popular gambling of our day would be more characterized as “predatory gambling.” Predatory gambling occurs when corporate gambling interests partner with the government to cheat and exploit its citizens. New legislation at the Georgia State Legislature could lead to this.
This kind of legislation is so deceptive because it is usually based upon some very basic false assumptions. For example, because illegal sports betting already happens in Georgia, promoters of Big Gambling mimic those of Big Pot by arguing that we might as well make it legal and “do a better job of regulating it.”
But we have already seen repeatedly, when it comes to legalizing social moral vices the theoretical benefits – economic and otherwise -- do not match the devastating negative impact that further availability of these kinds of things produces in our culture. Gambling is not a risk that is worth taking because the mental health and public safety issues are way too risky to allow this to be put on a ballot initiative.
Our citizens have already decided that the legislature should determine when the benefits of something being put on the ballot would outweigh the risks. The evidence of dangerous consequences from gambling expansion – just like those of marijuana expansion – is overwhelming. Given these undeniable facts, a responsible legislature should not take a chance with expanding predatory gambling in our state!
See the following handout for more information on this subject (“ABC’s of Gambling” by Professor John Kindt: https://gabaptist.egnyte.com/dl/YGzUY5Z5sp
Now is the time for you to contact your legislators and ask them to vote "no" regarding any constitutional amendments being put on the ballot to further legalize predatory gambling in Georgia. Your children and your children’s children are depending on you!
Children are one of the most vulnerable groups of people in our nation. We're living in a day when children are suffering the most from societal ills that are facing our culture. Whether it's abortion, sex abuse, pornography, school shootings, alcohol, drugs, gambling, or gender dysphoria, children are reaping the greatest consequences of the most grievous social ills of our time.
I have stated on numerous occasions, “If we (the church) don’t at least care about the impact the culture is having upon our children, then what kind of ‘gospel’ are we preaching?”
The Lord Jesus himself placed one of the highest levels of responsibility on the care and protection of children when He said, “but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea (Matthew 18:6 NASB).”
Today we need to understand that God calls upon all parents, all adults, and yes, all governments to act as shepherds when it comes to caring for the welfare of our children. We should all know that the first responsibility of a shepherd is to protect his sheep.
Protection is more important than feeding and leading sheep. Think of it this way. If sheep are not alive there is no need to feed or lead them.
So, the first responsibility of a shepherd is to protect their sheep from any harm. They must remain protected if the shepherd is going to lead them to places to feed them.
With the onslaught of matters such as abortion, sex abuse, pornography, school shootings alcohol, drugs, gambling, or gender dysphoria, children are facing their most difficult days in our nation.
Therefore, it is important to closely monitor legislation at the state Capitol. God calls upon us to protect our most vulnerable and valuable asset: our children!
These are just some of the areas of focus at the state Capitol during the 2023 legislative session. Also, I hope to see many of you this year at the Georgia Baptist Pastors Day at the State Capitol, on January 26. More information is available here: https://gabaptist.org/events/pastors-day-at-the-capitol/.
Please know how much I need and appreciate your prayers and support! Thank you for the opportunity to represent Georgia Baptists and the Biblical values for which we stand.
Mike Griffin is the Public Affairs Representative of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board.
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