A Georgia Baptist lobbyist and champion of anti-gay “religious freedom” legislation was blasted on Thursday for comparing lawmakers to Hitler for their failure to pass the bills he favors.
Strangely enough, the condemnation of Mike Griffin – the public affairs director for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board – came from Republican lawmakers on the House floor, some of the same legislators that otherwise support Griffin's causes.
But not so on Thursday. Several lawmakers criticized the affable lobbyist for a legislative update that he wrote March 4 for the Christian Index. In it, Griffin took House lawmakers to task for not passing the anti-gay House Bill 757. The measure, passed by the Senate on Feb. 19, would allow faith-based agencies to discriminate against LGBT people and others. Since its passage, the measure has sparked a national backlash from businesses and even Gov. Nathan Deal.
Griffin's update contained the dire warnings that he and other religious conservatives have used around the State Capitol:
As Georgia Baptists, we have been asking the House to leave the bill as it is. We want broad-based protection for all Georgians, not just the pastor and the church buildings. The LGBT activists, the Chamber of Commerce, and media are promoting only pastors, churches, and faith-based nonprofits. They overwhelmingly asked the legislature and the governor to not protect the business community from public accommodation laws, which will force these businesses to promote, support, and participate in same-sex marriage ceremonies.
But the piece also included this: “We must not let the government do to us what Hitler did to the pastors and churches of his day. He got them to accept this protection from government action if they would agree to stay out of government. He basically said, you take care of the church and leave government to me. Pastors, this is happening before our eyes today.”
That language was removed from Griffin's post earlier this week but not before it circulated among lawmakers at the State Capitol. They weren't in session on Wednesday, but when they returned on Thursday morning, some lawmakers pounced.
Rep. Trey Kelley, R-Cedartown, said Griffin is comparing lawmakers to the “most despicable person ever to walk this Earth.”
“I’m ashamed this man is walking around this Capitol with a badge claiming he represents me and my faith,” Kelley said.
Rep. Dominic Lariccia, R-Douglas, one of the most conservative members of the House, said he refused to mention out loud who Griffin compared them to.
“I’m going to mention Mike Griffin’s name,” Lariccia said. “I hope that my life says a lot more about who Jesus is to me then any words that I can publish or any words that come out of my mouth.”
— Allen Peake (@AllenPeake) March 10, 2016
LGBT advocates had their say as well.
— Anthony M. Kreis (@AnthonyMKreis) March 10, 2016
— Robbie Medwed (@rjmedwed) March 10, 2016
House Speaker David Ralston also criticized Griffin, calling the comparison “deplorable.” Via Georgia Pol:
The whole debate on this issue has gotten out of hand. I think his comments and what he said were beyond the pale. I think it’s despicable. I think it’s deplorable. On behalf of the House of Representatives, I was extremely sickened that someone would compare this legislative body to Hitler and Hitler’s Germany.
I think this should reinforce the point I’ve been making all along that we should be civil. We need to be reasonable in our discussions. What I would suggest that Mr. Griffin tell his readers is that maybe they need to listen to their preachers and read their bibles more and listen to talk radio less.
Griffin isn't walking back what he wrote, according to Georgia Pol.
For his part, Griffin said that his post was a call to pastors for their help in alerting their congregations to the religious liberty issue, and that the reaction by the House members was overblown. Griffin says he stands on the statement regarding the historical accuracy of the context of the church in Germany, which he said was the only group specifically mentioned in the article. When Griffin was told that Rep. Kelley had asked for an apology, Griffin said that none was due since the context of the article was misinterpreted by the legislators.
Griffin is ever present at the Capitol and has spent considerable time lobbying lawmakers to support several anti-gay bills. He has also claimed credit for helping lawmakers craft the hybrid House Bill 757 that combined the mostly innocuous Pastor Protection Act with the disturbingly anti-gay First Amendment Defense Act that the Senate Rules Committee offered as a compromise and quickly passed on Feb. 16. Three days later, that measure passed the Senate after hours of debate.
Griffin compared the combined bills to Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and described them as “two great tastes that taste great together.”
During a Feb. 2 press conference inside the State Capitol, Griffin complained that Christians are being persecuted.
“We support the most broad-based legislation that protects the rights of people of faith,” Griffin said. “All these other pieces of legislation have merit. But RFRA would be at least the minimum we have to do. We try to speak the truth with love. And we feel Christians are being suppressed from speaking that.”
In 2015, Griffin helped lower a religious hammer on the heads of lawmakers waffling over Sen. Josh McKoon's “religious freedom” legislation. He blamed the bill's failure on “fear mongering” and “religious phobia” and said passing the anti-gay bill ought to be as easy as a preacher wanting fried chicken. Really.
Griffin becomes less affable when Republican lawmakers side with protecting LGBT people from discrimination. He's also bros with former Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran, who offered anti-gay, misogynist and anti-Semitic ramblings in a self-published book.
UPDATE | Griffin also responded with a tweet.
My statement in question today was simply a warning of the historical dangers of the church not standing up for Religious Liberty.
— Michael R. Griffin (@mikegriffinsr) March 10, 2016