The “religious freedom” crusader at the Georgia Capitol fired up some righteous indignation on Friday to level salvos at fellow lawmakers and to stand with the Baptist preacher who compared lawmakers to Hitler.
The theatrics were rich during Sen. Josh McKoon's condemnation of House lawmakers from the Senate floor on Friday. But for the lawmaker who has reached into his bag of histrionics this session to compensate for being sidelined in the debate over several anti-gay “religious freedom” bills, that's the only political play he has left. And occasionally, it's entertaining.
McKoon (photo) took to the Senate floor to defend Mike Griffin, the Baptist preacher and lobbyist for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board. Griffin, in a piece for the Christian Index, compared lawmakers to Hitler for their failure to pass the anti-gay bills he favors. On Thursday, several House lawmakers – including Republicans – blistered Griffin with criticism. House Speaker David Ralston called the comparison “despicable and deplorable.”
McKoon said Griffin simply “issued a plea to people of faith asking them to engage in the political process.” And then he unloaded on Ralston and House lawmakers for failing to take action on House Bill 757, legislation that has sparked a national backlash since its Feb. 19 approval by the Senate.
“We know what this is really about,” McKoon said. “It is about the total abject failure of the House of Representatives to act on substantive religious freedom legislation. And they would like to talk about something, anything but that abject failure to act.”
The Senate legislation hijacked the Pastor Protection Act, which the House unanimously passed, and added anti-gay provisions from the Frist Amendment Defense Act. The Senate passage sent the bill back to the House, where it has inspired a national backlash as lawmakers, Ralston and Gov. Nathan Deal try to craft a way out of the legislative mess.
On Thursday, Ralston said Griffin's comments made their work that much more difficult. 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.
The objectionable passage was initially removed from Griffin's post and then added back on Thursday with a note to provide “historical context.” Then the Georgia Baptist Mission Boarded published a statement as an attempt to further explain it away.
McKoon stood with Griffin and what he wrote, adding that there are parallels to be drawn between the apathy of churches in Hitler's Germany and the apathy found in churches today. (Though spend any amount of time at the State Capitol and it's quickly clear that religious conservatives are visible and hold considerable away over the legislative process. Hardly apathetic.)
“And that is what Mike Griffin was talking about. To suggest otherwise is simply and plainly ridiculous,” McKoon said.
And McKoon delivered another verbal jab at the House.
“No action will be taken [on the legislation], maybe not at all. But if it is, it will be in the weeks to come. But let's be serious about what is really objectionable. And it's not objectionable for a man who's come down here simply to advocate on behalf of people of faith to try and wake up the church,” McKoon said.
McKoon has been sidelined this legislative session, with his own “religious freedom” legislation stuck in a House committee. House lawmakers on Thursday also killed McKoon's efforts for an amendment to the Georgia Constitution to make English the state's official language. (State law already makes it so.)
So McKoon has taken to the Senate floor many mornings during moments of personal privilege granted to senators to criticize opponents of House Bill 757 and poke at House lawmakers. Ralston slapped back, which prompted McKoon to deliver the best theater of the legislative session – his sad, lonely political perp walk for a TV news crew.