Day 18 of the 2016 legislative session saw thousands of of religious freedom supporters ascend Capitol Hill to lobby legislators and attend a rally featuring Franklin Graham’s Decision America 2016 tour. The noontime rally at Liberty Plaza featured these words from Rev Graham, according to the AJC:
“We are here today because we see our nation is in trouble,” Graham said, speaking on a stage flanked by the U.S. and Georgia flags. “We are in trouble spiritually. We are in trouble racially. We are in trouble economically. And we are in trouble politically.”
Graham then identified the “sins of our nation,” including legalized abortion, the “great sin” of same-sex marriage, pride, materialism, racism and not caring for the poor. He called efforts to allow transgender people to use public restrooms for the sex they identify with “wicked.”
In response, Former Senate Majority Leader Ronnie Chance, who heads the pro-tolerance group Georgia Prospers, issued this statement:
Georgia Prospers is a coalition of businesses that have signed a pledge expressing support for nondiscrimination policies. Nearly 300 businesses representing nearly 190,000 employees have signed on. Members of the coalition support the bedrock principle of religious freedom and believe that those First Amendment can co-exist with laws that ensure all people in our state are treated fairly and equally.
Laws that allow for, or appear to allow for, discrimination pose a direct threat to our state’s economy. It damages our brand as a welcoming state that’s a great place to do business. It also hurts our ability to recruit and retain the skilled workforce that employers need. We saw what happened in Indiana: negative coverage nationally, boycott threats, convention cancellations. A Georgia-based study found that a similar bill could lead to the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars to our state’s economy. We can’t afford that at a time in our nation when even people with jobs feel a sense of economic insecurity.
Under the Gold Dome, lawmakers worked to get religious liberty legislation on the calendar. In the House, a special meeting of the Rules Committee was called in the middle of session so that the Pastor Protection Act could be placed on Thursday’s rules calendar for consideration by the entire House.
Over in the Senate, things weren’t so lucky, as a scheduled Rules Committee meeting hearing on the First Amendment Defense Act, which was to begin following the day’s floor session was initially postponed half an hour because of the Graham rally going on at the time. After the delay, it was announced that the Rules Committee meeting had been postponed until 4:30 PM. Those gathered at the 4:30 PM hearing heard the bill’s sponsor, Greg Kirk, say that a substitute version he had planned to introduce wasn’t quite ready, and withdrew his request for a hearing. That hearing is now scheduled for Thursday following the Senate floor session.