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Religious "freedom to discriminate" bills in Georgia:

Part 1 of ten parts

2015-6: House bill HB 757 introduced.
Senate considers bill SB 284.
Bill SB 284 is merged into HB 757,
and is passed by the Senate.

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In this web site, the acronym "LGBT" refers to the
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Transsexual community.

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U.S. map with Georgia highlighted 2015-JUL to 2016-FEB: House Bill HB 757 was introduced to the Georgia House and Senate:

A narrowly focused bill, HB-757, was introduced to the Georgia General Assembly during 2015-JUL. It was sponsored by six Representatives, all Republicans: Reps. Kevin Tanner, Randy Nix, Paul Battles, Jay Powell, Matt Hatchett, and Beth Beskin. An identical bill was sponsored in the Senate by Senator Greg Kirk, who is also a Republican.

A summary of the bill reads:

"A BILL ... to provide that religious officials shall not be required to perform marriage ceremonies in violation of their legal right to free exercise of religion; ... [and] to to protect property owners ... against infringement of religious freedom ..." 1

The bill was commonly referred to as a "Pastor Protection Bill." It had three purposes:

  • It would protect all priests, ministers, pastors, etc. who refuse, because of their religious beliefs, to marry some couple with a marriage licenses. Clergy could refuse to solemnize a marriage if the couple was considered to be of the "wrong" race; be of different races; have been previously married and divorced; assessed as lacking in maturity; having had a child while unmarried; be of the same gender; from two different denominations; from two different religions, etc.

  • Also, owners of businesses would be free to close their facility on Saturday or Sunday if working on those days conflicted with their religious beliefs. This would work well for owners who are Jews and Christians, but would not necessarily meet the needs of members of other religions. For example, Muslims consider Friday to be religiously special. Many Wiccans and other Neopagans hold circles on weekdays, and on Wiccan Sabbats (eight yearly seasonal days of celebration which may occur on any day of the week).

  • Finally, the bill would give immunity from prosecution to churches and other religious institutions who want to refuse to rent their facilities for any ceremony, like a gay marriage, that would violate their religious beliefs. 2

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2016-FEB-02: Senate considers a second bill: SB-284, the "First Amendment Defense Act."

A wider ranging bill that would legalize and protect discrimination in churches, commerce, and elsewhere originated in the Senate: Bill SB-284 is called the "First Amendment Defense Act." It would target for discrimination not only the 10% of Georgians who are part of the LGBT community; it would also target the approximately 90% of people in Alabama who are non-virgins when they first marry. The bill would:

"... prohibit discriminatory action against a person who believes, speaks, or acts in accordance with a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction that marriage is or should be recognized [only] as the union of one man and one woman or that sexual relations are properly reserved to such marriage." 2

This bill would cover the type of conflict that has recently been observed in some states between a same-sex engaged couples and a "public accommodation." The latter are typically retail stores that provide marriage-related goods and/or services to the general public. Past conflicts have involved florists, bakers, wedding dress suppliers, wedding photographers, etc. To our knowledge, all conflicts have involved one or more conservative Christian owner(s) who refused to accept a gay couple as a customer. That refusal has sometimes violated human rights laws and ordinances in some states and municipalities. Bill SB-284 would protect the religious freedom to discriminate by store owners.

When a store owner refuses to serve a potential customer, they also violate a command of Jesus Christ to follow the Golden Rule: He taught his followers to treat other people as his followers would like to be treated in return. The bill would give anyone a license to discriminate in the area of marriage, by granting them immunity from any form of prosecution.

Apparently in order to keep a low profile on SB-284, the Senate only provided 30 minutes notice on FEB-02 when they held a snap hearing on the bill. Only two people were able to testify: The bill's sponsor, Senator Greg Kirk (R), and former Atlanta City Council President Cathy Woolard, who is a lobbyist for the LGBT group Georgia Equality.

John Wright, writing for the New Civil Rights Movement, a pro-equality group, said:

"Kirk's bill, considered the worst of at least seven anti-LGBT religious freedom measures introduced in Georgia this year, was also the first to receive a hearing. SB 284 is a state version of the proposed federal law designed to give virtually every individual and entity — from government employees and contractors to for-profit businesses — a license to discriminate against not only same-sex couples and their children, but also anyone who's had sex outside of wedlock." 3

Senator Hunter Hill (R) said that the bill would prevent:

"... discrimination against the religious community." 3

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2016-FEB: The Senate merges HB-757 and SB-284 into a single bill and passes it:

The bill's sponsor, Senator Greg Kirk, said of the merged bill:

"This bill protects the constitutional rights of individuals and faith-based organizations. It takes nothing away from same-sex couples or members of the LGBT community. ... It is a live and let live bill." 4

Dave Williams, writing for the Atlanta Business Chronicle, noted that:

"Democrats argued the legislation is drawn so broadly it would let taxpayer-funded faith-based organizations refuse to provide services to Georgians based on their sexual orientation or even such factors as whether they are divorced or involved in an interracial relationship. ..."

Sen. Nan Orrock, D-Atlanta, cited a recent study undertaken by leading Georgia business organizations predicting that enacting such a bill into law in Georgia would prompt a national boycott of the state by convention organizers and promoters of major sporting events including the Super Bowl. She said:

'We've invested in world-class convention centers and sporting arenas. [But] we're prepared to torch that on the basis of this bill ... and thumb our noses to the entire business community.'

But Sen. Tommie Williams, R-Lyons, said protecting Georgians' religious beliefs supersedes the threat of a boycott.

"When it comes down to football or religious freedom, I'm on the side of religious freedom," he said. 4

A similar bill passed earlier in Indiana generated a massive boycott there similar to that predicted by Senator Orrock.

A CNN article stated:

"The bill's Senate sponsor, Greg Kirk, a Republican, said the revised bill is about equal protection and not discrimination, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

"It only impacts the government's interaction with faith-based organizations or a person who holds faith-based, sincerely held beliefs as it relates to marriage," he said. 2

The bill was passed by a party-line vote of 38 to 14.

Georgia Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle described the Senate's passage of the Bill to be a victory over "radical atheist groups." He wrote on Facebook:

"... the Senate passed legislation that will protect religious liberties of all of our public school student athletes. ... This sends a clear message that Georgia is still God’s country." 5

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This topic continues in the next essay.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "HB 757,"Georgia general Assembly, 2015-2016 session, at: http://www.legis.ga.gov/
  2. Steve Almasy & Dave Alsup,"Georgia Senate passes religious freedom bill," CNN, 2016-FEB-20, at: http://www.cnn.com/
  3. John Wright, "Cowardly Georgia Lawmakers Stage Surprise Hearing To Limit Input On Horrific Anti-Gay Bill," The New Civil Rights Movement, 2016-FEB-02, at: http://www.thenewcivilrightsmovement.com/
  4. Dave Williams, "Georgia Senate passes religious freedom bill," Atlanta Business Chronicle, 2016-FEB-19, at: http://www.bizjournals.com/
  5. Sandra Rose, "Georgia Passes ‘Anti-Gay’ Religious Freedom Bill That Exempts Pastors from Marrying Gays," 2016-FEB-20, at: http://sandrarose.com/

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Copyright © 2016 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.
First posted: 2016-MAR-12
Latest update: 2016-MAR-13
Author: B.A. Robinson

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