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Religious "freedom to discriminate" bills in Georgia:

Part 8 of ten parts

2016-MAR: Discussions about the potential
for discrimination in bill HB 757, the "Free
Exercise Protection Act

Governor Nathan Deal (R) vetoes HB 757!
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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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This topic is continued from the previous essay.

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U.S. map with Georgia highlightedthumb down image Still more reactions the passage of to HB 757 by the Legislature:

Week of 2016-MAR-20: Active discussions about whether HB 757 has the potential to discriminate heavily against the LGBT community:

Governor Deal had until MAY-03 to sign the bill into law or attempt to veto it.

Earlier in March, he indicated his reluctance to sign the bill. After noting that he is personally a Baptist, he said:

"We do not have a belief, in my way of looking at religion, that says that we have to discriminate against anybody. I think what the New Testament teaches us is that Jesus reached out to those who were considered outcasts. ... I don't think that we have to have anything that allows discrimination in our state in order to protect people of faith." 1

At about the same time, the Georgia Baptist Mission Board wrote on their Facebook page:

"The Free Exercise Protection Act passes the House and Senate tonight! It provides a much needed increase in religious liberty protections for all the citizens of Georgia. The Georgia Baptist Mission Board applauds the cooperative efforts of Speaker Ralston, Lt. Gov. Cagle, and the leadership of both the House and Senate, in working together for the purpose of expanding religious freedom in our state." 1

Some further developments were:

  • Thousands of emails have been sent, and hundreds of telephone calls have been made, to Governor Deal's office over this bill. 2

  • All three openly gay members of the Georgia House: Reps. Karla Drenner (D), Keisha Waites (D), and Park Cannon (D), appealed to the Governor to veto the bill. They said that the state has already lost face over concerns that the bill would legalize discrimination across the state. They were joined by House members Taylor Bennett (D), Dee Dawkins-Haigler (D) who is the chair of the Legislative Black Caucus.

Rep. Drenner may have identified the fundamental problem at the core of HB 757. She differentiated between:

  • religious beliefs which are protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and federal, state, & municipal laws, and

  • actions based on those beliefs, which are not necessarily protected if they harm others.

She said that:

    "Freedom of religion is an American value; it allows all of us to believe as we see fit. ... [But] it does not allow us to use religion to harm or take away from others."

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  • On MAR-21, U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson (R) suggested that state lawmakers should leave the religious liberty debate to the lawmakers in Congress.

  • Kaleb McMichen, a spokesperson for Speaker David Ralston, (R), sent an email to Republican lawmakers saying:

"For whatever reason, some of what has been said has included exaggerations or misinformation. ... [A] packet of information is being forwarded to all caucus members so you can have some trusted sources of information for further discussions with your constituents." 2

The information packet states, in part, that HB 757:

"... strikes a balance between protecting [religious freedom] rights under the First Amendment [to the U.S. Constitution] while at the same time welcoming all to Georgia without fear of discrimination. ... [It is a] carefully drafted, narrowly-focused measure with clear anti-discriminatory language that does not impact commercial transactions and will keep Georgia the #1 state in the nation for business." 2

  • Speaker Ralston was interviewed for a program on Georgia Public Broadcasting’s program "The Lawmakers." He said that the bill is:

    "... free of discrimination. Otherwise, I would not have allowed it to go forward. I don’t think Georgians want to send the wrong message about what kind of state we are. I want us to message that we are a welcoming state."

During the previous week, he did conclude that HB 757 might automatically repeal local human rights/anti-discrimination ordinances that have been previously passed by many city councils in Georgia.

He appears to have a very different understanding of the bill than The Buckhead Coalition, which is a group of Atlanta business and civic leaders. The Coalition criticized the bill on MAR-21. Also there are over 400 national and Georgian business in the Georgia Prospers group, and multiple sports organizations who have called on Governor Deal to veto the measure because of its discriminatory content.

  • Rep. Edward Lindsey, (R) has analyzed the bill and concluded that, if signed into law, it would not make major changes in the state. He said:

    "... in drilling down into the bill, very little is actually changed by it in Georgia in terms of the present rights of citizens.

  • City Councilman Andy Bauman of Sandy Springs, GA plans to introduce an anti-discrimination ordinance to protect LGBT employees, contractors and anyone doing business with the city.

  • Conservative religious groups, including the Faith and Freedom Coalition and the Georgia Baptist Mission Board have urged their supporters to ask Governor Deal to sign the bill into law. Without the law, they assert that the belief that same-sex couples should be prohibited from marrying would not be protected, and religious groups would be discriminated against.

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  • Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council -- an influential conservative Christian group -- complained that HB 757 had largely been gutted during its passage through the Legislature. He wrote:

    "If you’re looking for a clue behind the inexplicable rise of Donald Trump and his support among “evangelicals,” look no further than Georgia. It’s called Republicans. In a state where protecting religious liberty is as popular as peach pie, Republican Governor Nathan Deal (R) and House Speaker David Ralston (R) are presiding over the demise of Georgian’s First Freedom.

    After weeks of working on HB 757, a modest bill that would have provided protections against the growing threat to religious freedom in the wake of the Supreme Court’s redefinition of marriage, timid lawmakers caved to misinformation campaigns from the Left and threats from big business. The bill, which was never as strong as it should have been, is now a tattered fig leaf now that House Speaker David Ralston has gutted the real protections for Georgia’s men and women of faith. In this latest 'compromise,' only a fraction of faith-based groups and churches would be protected from the government’s merciless attacks on Christians. If this measure is enacted, shop owners like Melissa Klein and public officials like Kelvin Cochran would still be left twisting in the wind while the state fires, fines, and punishes Georgians to forced acceptance of same-sex marriage.

    And even now, after the bill has been watered down so much that it’s unrecognizable, big business is still complaining. Companies like Coca-Cola, Home Depot, Arby’s, and Sales Force [sic] are either intent on strong-arming Christians or too lazy to get the facts, because all are threatening to pull out of Georgia if it won’t allow the bullying of believers to continue. 3

    Perkins referred to Melissa Klein in Oregon who refused for religious reasons to bake a wedding cake for a lesbian couple. The couple complained to a human rights tribunal. The Kleins were found guilty and fined $135,000. They resorted to crowd funding, raised $450,000 in donations, and made a tidy profit. Kelvin Cochran, is the fire chief of Atlanta who published a book which contained criticisms of same-gender sexual behavior and gay marriage. He distributed it within the Fire Department, was suspended by the mayor, and later fired. He is now suing the city.

    The National Organization for Marriage is the main national group promoting a ban on marriage by same-sex couples. Brian Brown commented:

    "The Georgia legislature succumbed to pressure from the Human Rights Campaign and other LGBT extremists and significantly watered down religious liberty protections before sending the legislation (HB 757) to Governor Nathan Deal for his signature. Incredibly, it’s possible that Governor Deal will not sign even the modest protections in the bill, which are designed to protect pastors and religious groups from having to perform same-sex ‘weddings’ or forcing them to be hosted at their facilities." 4

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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. Greg Botelho and Doug Criss, "Ga. governor cites Jesus in signaling 'religious freedom' bill opposition," CNN, 2016-MAR-17, at:
  2. Aaron Gould Sheinin and Kristina Torres, et al., "Sides argue about impact Georgia ‘religious liberty’ bill would have," Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 2016-MAR-21, at:
  3. Tony Perkins, "Stealing your conscience in Georgia? GA Bill a Real Peach of Work," Family Research Council, 2016, at:
  4. Brian S. Brown, "Georgia passes weakened religious liberty bill," National Organization for Marriage, 2016-MAR-18, at:

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Copyright 2016 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.
First posted: 2016-MAR-22
Latest update: 2016-MAR-26
Author: B.A. Robinson

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