Diary

Religion 'Mall'ed by Georgia Legislature

Galleria-Vittorio-Emanuele-II-Picture1

Milan is a beautiful and ancient city in the north of Italy, nestled in the foothills about 75 miles south of the Tyrolean Alps, with their snow-capped peaks topping ten thousand feet.

I visited Milan 25 years ago, and found a modern, metropolitan city, Italy’s center of fashion and commerce, bristling with open air markets full of leather crafts, neckties, and ladies’ purses.

One unique feature of Milan is the enormous Galleria at the city’s center: a four story glass-domed shopping mall, designed in 1861, and built over 12 years between 1865 and 1877. Centerville’s Houston Galleria mall is a direct descendent of its Milanese great-great-grandfather.

At the center of the octagon marking the intersection of the Galleria’s four halls is a mosaic of the Turin Coat of Arms, which notably features the image of a bull. Legend says that if a person spins on their heels on the bull’s testicles three times, this will bring good fortune.

Yes, I did spin.

Milan is also connected with a famous event, joining it with Georgia and today’s political climate. In the early fourth century A.D., Roman Emperor Constantine met there with Tetrarch Licinius, who controlled the Balkans to the east, and together they issued the Edict of Milan. The Edict was posted in Nicomedia, which is part of modern day Turkey, on 13 June, 313.

The Edict of Milan was the world’s first Religious Freedom Restoration Act, following Emperor Galerius’ Edict of Toleration, issued in 311. Galerius ended the terrible persecution of those openly worshipping Christ, but stopped short of restoring Church possessions confiscated by state officials.

Ancient historian Eusebius recorded that Constantine experienced a dream in the year 312, in which he saw the Lord Jesus appear with a heavenly sign, the Chi Rho (“☧”), two Greek alphabet characters overlaid, which make up the first two letters of the name “Christos” (“ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ”). Constantine emblazoned the Chi Rho onto his army’s shields and banners, then went on to defeat Maxentius’ numerically superior forces in battle, enter Rome and claim the title of emperor.

Although popular teaching brands Constantine as the first Roman Emperor to establish Christianity as the state religion, he did no such thing—that was done years later by Emperor Theodosius I. What Constantine did was remove persecution based on any religion, pagan or Christian, from Rome.

When you see that this has been granted to [Christians] by us, your Worship will know that we have also conceded to other religions the right of open and free observance of their worship for the sake of the peace of our times, that each one may have the free opportunity to worship as he pleases; this regulation is made that we may not seem to detract from any dignity of any religion.

Georgia’s legislature had the opportunity to fulfill Constantine’s legacy by passing Senate Bill 129, the Georgia Religious Freedom Restoration Act, in its 2015 legislative session. This did not happen, because many Georgia legislators felt that the law would be political dynamite, and Governor Deal, who agreed to sign it, refused to offer his support at the critical hour when the bill was sacrificed to the political god of special interests.

Like the factually incorrect historical teaching about Constantine, these special interests painted RFRA as a proclamation of Christianity as Georgia’s state religion, instead of the protection from persecution and unlawful forfeiture of property that it is.

Georgia’s legislature and governor watched in paralyzed terror as Indiana passed the very same bill, suffered vicious attacks and vilification from the special interests, and then retreated behind a second bill emasculating the original intent of religious protection under the law.

Although Milan is a marvelous place to visit in the summertime, on this 1,702nd anniversary of the Edict of Milan, the singular legacy of that illustrious city that Georgia citizens can celebrate is, sadly—the mall.

Published in the Houston Home Journal June 13, 2015