Thursday, March 5, 2015

License to Harm in the Name of Religion?

UPDATE: The bill died at the last day of session April 2. It could come back for the 2016 Georgia General Assembly session, though. 

Maggie Garrett, Americans United's Legislative Director, has been following the Georgia legislature closely because of proposed legislation which would allow businesses and individuals to discriminate against others based on their religious beliefs and which would divert public money to private schools, many of which are religious. 

She promoted a rally in Atlanta against the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (SB 129) on Tuesday, March 17. She also informed that Senate Resolution 388, which would have allowed the State of Georgia to use faith-based contractors to provide social-services, would not pass this year.

Americans Untied has issued an action alert to demonstrate opposition to HB 243 which would establish Educational Savings Accounts, in essence a school voucher program. 

DUBLIN, GA (PR) – Today, Democratic Party of Georgia Chair DuBose Porter issued the following statement in response to the passage of SB 129—a license to discriminate against certain Georgians disguised as religious liberty legislation.

“Today’s actions by Senate Republicans are truly disappointing. We are living in the year 2015 and so much progress has been made across the nation, yet a few politicians in Georgia want to turn back the clock on civil rights in the name of religious freedom. Religious beliefs and equal rights for all Georgians can exist in symmetry without government intrusion. This bill is unnecessary and I urge members of the State House to reject such a dangerous piece of legislation that will set Georgia back for decades.”


A group of clergies from around the state oppose the bill. More than 20 spiritual leaders signed a letter presented to legislators at the beginning of the session.

“As clergy and civil rights leaders, we are concerned to hear that some elected Georgia officials plan to introduce a “Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a bill that could result in discrimination and have many unintended consequences.

“As faith leaders from diverse traditions, we believe freedom of religion is one of our most fundamental rights as Americans, but religious freedom does not give any of us the right to harm or exclude others.

“We oppose this proposed legislation. First, it would put an individual’s religion beliefs ahead of the common good. Second, it could unleash a wave of costly lawsuits that will add burdens to both the courts and taxpayers alike. Third, it is unnecessary because our freedom of religion is already guaranteed and protected by the U.S. Constitution and Georgia’s State Constitution.
58 Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to:
59 (1) Apply to penological rules, regulations, conditions, or policies established by a penal
60 institution that are reasonably related to the safety and security of incarcerated persons,
61 staff, visitors, supervised violators, or the public, or to the maintenance of good order and
62 discipline in any penal institution or parole or probation program; or
63 (2) Create any rights by an employee against an employer if such employer is not
64 government.

“Fourth, a state RFRA could legalize discrimination by allowing businesses to refuse to serve customers based on religious objections. We believe that businesses that are open to the public should be open to everyone on the same terms. We strongly oppose giving for-profit corporations religious rights that could allow them to discriminate against employees based on any characteristic-from their religious practices to their sexual orientation. This principle harkens back to the civil rights movement and our nations’s core values of equality and justice.

“We all have different views on the issue of marriage for same-sex couples, but we are united in condemnation of discrimination and in firm support of equal protection under the law.

“We caution our elected leaders against supporting this unnecessary RFRA, which opens wide the door for exclusion and division. Instead, they must preserve the current protections already afforded to us through the Constitution.”

Among other signees are:

Rev. Dr. James Lamkin. Pastor, Northside Drive Bapstist Church, Atlanta
Rev. Dr. Cynthia Hale. Senior Pastor, Ray of Hope Christian Church, Decatur
Rev. Dr. Gaye Ortiz. Pastor Unitarian Universalist Church of Augusta
Rabbi Peter Berg. The Temple, Atlanta.

A Shield, not a Sword

The Central Savannah River chapter of the Americans United for Separation of Church and State also opposed SB 129. “This bill would allow individuals and even for-profit corporation to trump Georgia laws in the name of religion. It could even be a license to discriminate. Religious freedom is a shield, not a sword.”

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