Some Georgia Republican party activists have not given up on passing “religious freedom” legislation that could use religion to justify discrimination and deny rights and access to healthcare to others. According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Georgia GOP state committee will debate a resolution this weekend that would urge the gubernatorial candidates to pledge to support a state Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) if elected. This legislation could allow individuals and organizations use their religious beliefs to undermine nondiscrimination laws, discriminate in hiring, refuse to provide lifesaving healthcare, deny employees access to contraception insurance, refuse counseling to vulnerable youth, and more. Such a bill flies in the face of religious freedom, which gives us the right to believe or not believe, but never to use religious beliefs to discriminate against others.
The move comes after years of failed attempts to pass a state RFRA. In 2016, HB 757, a “religious freedom” bill that included RFRA language and other provisions that explicitly permitted discrimination, made it through both the House and Senate and landed on GOP Governor Nathan Deal’s desk. The response to the bill was immediate and deafening; major corporations, CEOs, entertainment industry titans, the mayor of Atlanta, the NFL, Atlanta’s professional sports teams, athletes, and actors spoke out against the bill, while religious groups, including Jewish, Unitarian Universalist, and Presbyterian organizations, declared that HB 757 violated their religious teachings. Ultimately, Governor Deal vetoed the bill, saying: “I do not think we have to discriminate against anyone to protect the faith-based community in Georgia of which my family and I are a part of for all of our lives.”
Although there is an effort on the part of some Georgia GOP committee officials to push back on this resolution, one of the four gubernatorial candidates, State Senator Hunter Hill, has already vowed to sign the pledge. No word yet on presumptive front-runner Lt. Governor Casey Cagle, who supports “religious freedom” legislation, but recently said that the issue should be decided by federal lawmakers.
Clearly, state GOP activists are looking to avoid more executive interference in their quest to allow the use of religion to discriminate. Yet all this resolution would do is keep governors from listening to the voice of the people, which for the past few years has come out vociferously against such legislation. We applaud Governor Deal’s efforts to keep Georgia open to all, and hope that future governors continue to follow his example.