Spotlight On: Georgia's Discriminatory Religious Exemption Bills

Having trouble keeping up on what is happening in the Georgia General Assembly? Don’t worry, so many bad bills that claim to protect religious freedom have been introduced that it is hard to follow. But we are here to help.  Here is your Georgia cheat sheet: It explains seven of the bills out there that claim to protect religious freedom, but really don’t.

SB 284: The Georgia First Amendment Defense Act (FADA), by Senator Greg Kirk

This bill would allow individuals, businesses, and government-funded organizations to discriminate against Georgians based on a belief that “marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman or that sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.” It would allow government-funded entities, as well private businesses, medical providers, and licensed professionals to discriminate against same-sex couples, unmarried couples, married couples in which one person had been married before, single mothers, all individuals who have had sex outside of marriage, and others.

Most everyone was surprised yesterday when this bill was scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Rules Committee and heard a few hours later. The discussion lasted 15 minutes and no vote was taken. The committee can take up this bill again at any time. 

Read our talking points about this bill here

SB 129: The Georgia Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), by Senator Josh McKoon

This bill would create a potential religious exemption to each and every law in the state. This RFRA bill mostly mirrors a federal bill of the same name and, thus, carries the same risks found in the federal bill—it could be used to harm others, including that it could be used to discriminate and deny women access to healthcare. For more on RFRAs, see our RFRA FAQ, and for more on why the state shouldn’t adopt a federal RFRA, check out our talking points here.

This bill carried over from the 2015 session and is the bill most people expected the Georgia legislature would debate this year.  Last year, the Senate passed the bill but it got held up in the House Judiciary Committee. To move forward, the House Judiciary Committee must take it up, but the Committee chair has said it has no chance of his committee even considering the bill until later in the legislative session.

SR 388: Constitutional Amendment to Strip Georgia’s No Aid Clause, by Senator Bill Heath

Georgia, like 37 other states, has an Establishment Clause (the clause the guarantees the separation of church and state) that is stronger than the federal Establishment Clause. In addition to being the reason why the state of Georgia cannot adopt a school voucher program (the provision prohibits state money from going to religious schools), the state Constitution is also the reason why the state cannot give money to churches and similar religious organizations. This resolution would strip these extra protections from the state constitution and could lead to discrimination funded by your taxpayer dollars.  

The Senate Committee on Government Oversight held a short hearing on the bill, but no vote was held. 

Read more about why we oppose this bill here.  

HB 837: The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), by Rep. Setzler.

This bill would do exactly the same thing as Josh McKoon’s RFRA (see above). This bill, like all of the bills below, was just recently introduced and has not moved. 

HB 756: The Pastor Protection Act, by Rep. Kevin Tanner

This is the bill favored by the House Speaker.  It would do three things:

  1. Clarify that clergy do not have to perform marriage ceremonies that violate their religious beliefs.
  2. Prohibit local governments from passing laws that would require businesses to be open on Saturdays and Sundays.
  3. State that “no religious organization shall be required to rent, lease, or otherwise grant permission for property to be used by another person for purposes which are objectionable to such religious organization.”

See our analysis of the bill here.

 HB 757: Allowing Businesses To Deny Services Related to Marriage, by Rep. Kevin Tanner

If passed, this bill would allow businesses to refuse to provide goods and services for any wedding with which they disagree. In addition, it would permit Georgia businesses to refuse to provide goods and services to churches and religious schools. See our analysis of the bill here.

 HB 861: Georgia Student Religious Liberties Act, by Rep. Billy Mitchell

This bill isn’t a refusal bill like the rest of the bills we cover on PTN. Instead, this bill is about school prayer (an issue that AU takes on but not as part of our PTN project and so you won’t find the bill on our PTN tracker). The reason we are bringing it up in this post, however, is because it is one more religion bill that is part of the conversation in Georgia.  

This bill spreads the false narrative that students can’t pray in public schools. We all know they can, so long as it is voluntary, student-initiated, and student-led, and it is not pushed onto other students who are a captive audience in the school setting. Because three of the six sponsors of this bill are Democrats and the supporters of the other six bills are Republicans, some are using this bill to claim that even those on the “left” are acknowledging that new protections for religion are necessary. That claim isn’t quite accurate, but it has made them a good talking point.


Only two of these bills have been heard in committee this session, and none have yet moved. But these bills are dominating the news and could move at any time. We’ll keep tracking these bills for you, you just need to come back to the PTN Legislation Tracker for the latest news