David Ralston: Let Congress take a crack at ‘religious liberty’ measure

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House Speaker David Ralston, center, at a 2015 press conference. Bob Andres, bandres@ajc.com

On Friday afternoon, House Speaker David Ralston joined host Bill Nigut and I for some conversation on GPB’s “Political Rewind.”

Many topics were touched, and you can listen to the entire exchange here. Perhaps most important was Ralston’s contention that an end to gridlock in Washington was a reason to give the “religious liberty” issue a rest come January – and let Congress take a crack at it.

The House speaker also said it would be “irresponsible” not to consider the apparent defeat of North Carolina’s governor, who signed legislation similar to the measure that Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed last spring.

The push to shift the fight to Washington has been building since the veto of House Bill 757.  In its aftermath, U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson came to the defense of the governor. From that post:

Isakson underscored his previous remarks that such policy is best considered on the federal level in order to avoid a patchwork approach in the states.

“The best thing to do is leave it for the Constitution and the rights that are guaranteed and any definitions you need to add to that, do it at the congressional level so every state and every business and every individual is operating under the same set of standards,” Isakson said.

On Friday, Ralston, who has dealt with the issue three sessions running, pronounced himself in agreement with Isakson:

“I think it is a federal issue, so I’m very content to let them deal with it. I don’t hear much discussion about it. There was a lot of concern in the period of time right after the veto, but I think as people have kind of stepped back and taken a look at it, I think they realize that it’s a little more complex and has dimensions that you might not expect when you flash up the words ‘religious freedom’ or ‘religious liberty.’ Because, you know, we all believe in that….

“So I think it would be healthy for the Congress to have a debate, and let’s see what they do….”

Ralston specifically pointed to Republican Gov. Pat McCrory of North Carolina, who last year signed a measure that restricted the use of public bathrooms by transgendered persons – and ended the power of local governments to enact LGBT protections. (McCrory is 10,000 votes down, but has refused to concede.) Said Ralston:

“Look at North Carolina…I don’t think many Republicans in North Carolina lost on general Election Day. I think he was the only one. Governor McCrory certainly became Exhibit A on this issue. They’ve had a lot of fallout from their decision to adopt a similar measure up there. Frankly, it would be irresponsible of us to ignore that.”


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