In the week since the Georgia Senate passed a version of the Pastor Protection Act that included significant portions of Senator Greg Kirk’s First Amendment Defense Act, opposition to the bill as it stands now has grown. While it might have been easy for legislators to brush off the complaints of a telephone service provider that largely works for Democratic causes, more scholarly concerns about House Bill 757 were expressed here and here.
At a Capitol ceremony marking the success of the Peach State’s film industry and the $6 billion it adds to Georgia’s economy, Governor Nathan Deal was asked if passing the Pastor Protection Act could cause filmmakers to leave. The governor signaled his interest in the measure, saying legislation was not finalized. Later in the week, Marc Benioff of Salesforce.com, who threatened to pull his company out of Indiana last year following its passage of religious liberty legislation, expressed his concerns over the measure, including this tweet.
On Friday, the Southern Sociological Society threatened to pull its convention out of Atlanta should HB 757 pass. The group has held its conference in Atlanta every three years, spending around $650,000 each time.
All of this has drawn attention to Georgia, which Governor Deal proudly says is the number one state for business. Today, the New York Times lent its voice to the debate in an editorial published in Saturday’s editions. In it, the paper says,
One of the most alarming bills comes out of Georgia, where state lawmakers have cobbled together a dangerous piece of legislation that would prohibit the government from punishing anyone or anything — individuals; businesses; and nonprofit groups, including those that receive taxpayer funds — for discrimination, so long as they claim it was based on their religious views of marriage.
The bill’s backers say they are trying to protect religious freedom. But they know full well that the measure is nothing more than a legal shield for discrimination. Georgians are free to believe as they choose, and to say whatever they want to whomever they want about their views on marriage. But when they enter the public sphere, and particularly when they benefit from taxpayer dollars, they are not free to ignore any law that doesn’t align with their personal religious views on marriage.
If Georgia’s House approves this bill, which would do immeasurable harm to the state’s citizens and businesses, Gov. Nathan Deal should veto it.
Don’t expect a quick resolution to this issue. Leadership in the House, Senate, and the Governor’s office are looking at their options, which range from letting the bill die at the end of the session, to modifying the language in the FADA portion of the bill to make it clear that for profit entities are not included in the protections it offers. Another option is eliminating the FADA language, and substituting either Josh McKoon’s SB 129 version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which as amended contains anti-discrimination provisions or Rep. Ed Setzler’s version of RFRA, which incorporates by reference the language of the federal RFRA, but has no anti-discrimination clause. There are other options as well, including stripping the FADA language and returning to the House passed version of the Pastor Protection Act.
What is true is that if the legislature hoped to pass a religious liberty bill without it drawing nationwide attention, that horse has left the barn.