January 13, 2016 12:35 PM
** Update **
A bill filed in the Georgia House exempts some small businesses from having to serve a customer if such service would violate the religious beliefs of the business owner. According to someone involved in developing the bill, this language would have the effect of allowing a baker or florist with strong religious beliefs to deny service to a same sex wedding couple. The exact details of House Bill 756 bill are unknown, including any restrictions on company size or ownership in order to be covered by the bill. It is also unknown whether the measure has the support of Speaker Ralston, as the Pastor Protection Act does.
State Rep. Kevin Tanner of Dawsonville dropped the Pastor Protection Act this morning. The bill, which will be HB 757, is seen by some as an alternative to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act proposed by Senator Josh McKoon of Columbus, features three provisions designed to protect freedom of religion.
The first provision protects ministers and other religious practitioners from being forced to solemnize marriages in violation of their First Amendment right to freedom of religion under the Georgia or U.S. Constitutions. While this right is widely recognized already, this portion of the bill further protects pastors from a possible breach in the wall between church and state.
The second major provision of the bill relates to the use of property owned by a church or religious organization, and protects that property from being used for a purpose the organization objects to. The measure applies to tax exempt organizations which are “a church, a religious school, an association or convention of churches, a convention mission agency, or an integrated auxiliary of a church or convention or association of churches.” An example of where this section might apply would be if a LGBT couple wanted to use a church facility as the site of a marriage, even if that marriage would be performed by someone not affiliated with that facility.
The final provision of the act prevents governments from requiring a business to be open on Saturday or Sunday, the two days of rest already listed in the Georgia Code. As an example of how this section would apply, based on a real law in Brazil, government could not force a gas station operated by Seventh Day Adventists to be open on Saturday, the day of rest for that denomination.
The bill should get a first reading in the House on Thursday, and quick passage of the measure is expected, given that it is supported by Speaker Ralston. While what will happen in the Senate is uncertain, the speaker indicated he hopes the measure will be supported there as well.
Here is the legislation as filed: