States should heed the lesson learned in Indiana and Georgia: discrimination in the name of religion is a losing proposition.
In the past few years, a handful of states have considered enacting new state RFRAs. The proponents of the legislation often make clear that their intent is to ensure that LGBT individuals and families can be denied a range of services, sometimes even by for-profit businesses and government officials. These proposals have faced swift and fierce backlash—from businesses concerned about economic outcomes, faith leaders opposed to discrimination in the name of religion, and individuals seeking to protect their neighbors against discrimination and harm.
Indiana’s SB 101: The State Set An Example Of What Not To Do
In 2015, Indiana passed a state RFRA.
The bill has damaged the state’s reputation and led to significant financial losses.
After then-Governor Mike Pence signed the RFRA (SB 101) into law, businesses and prominent Hoosiers took a stand against it: the NCAA, CEOs, NASCAR, law professors, health care providers, musicians, authors, performers, athletes, conventions, and entire states announced criticism and even boycotts of the state. Among others, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook called the law “deeply” disappointing, Levi & Strauss said that it “fosters[s] a culture of intolerance,” and Yelp’s CEO Jeremy Stoppelman stated that doing business in the state would be “unconscionable.”
Regular people and faith communities spoke out too. Within days of SB 101’s passage, #BoycottIndiana began trending on Twitter worldwide. Leaders from the Sikh Coalition, Reform Judaism, the Islamic Society of North America, the Presbyterian Church (USA), and the Disciples of Christ all condemned the bill.
A week later, and confronting nationwide outrage, Governor Pence signed a bill to attempt to “fix” the RFRA. But the “fix” was insufficient. It still allows discrimination in healthcare and education, and could allow religious organizations to use the bill to harm others.
Even with the “fix,” the Indiana RFRA has inflicted massive economic damages. Indianapolis alone lost $60 million from business and tourism, and twelve profitable conventions. Economic analysts concluded that Indiana could lose as much as $256.4 million over the next six years. Since SB 101 is still on the books, its long-term effects remain to be seen.
Indiana’s passage of its RFRA is an example of what not to do. See Americans United’s work on SB 101 here.
Georgia’s HB 757: Legislators Keep Trying To Do Harm, But The Governor Set An Example Of What To Do
Lawmakers in Georgia have been trying to pass a RFRA for several years now.
In 2015, as the legislature was considering a state RFRA bill, the bill’s supporters denied that it could be used to discriminate. Yet, after a non-discrimination provision was added to the legislation, supporters pulled the bill from consideration, revealing their true motives. Indeed, one proponent explained that adding a non-discrimination provision would “gut this bill.”
In 2016, after failing to move the legislation forward the year before, the legislature again took up several “religious freedom bills.” After a complicated, convoluted history, the legislature adopted HB 757, a bill that combined parts of some bills with other provisions dropped in at the last minute. In the end, the HB 757 landed on the Governor’s desk with a RFRA clause and other provisions that explicitly permitted discrimination.
In response, major corporations, CEOs, entertainment industry titans, the mayor of Atlanta, the NFL, Atlanta’s professional sports teams, athletes, and actors announced their opposition to HB 757. Jewish, Unitarian Universalist, and Presbyterian groups and leaders all declared that HB 757 violated their religious teachings. Georgia Unites delivered postcards to the State House from 75,000 people calling on Governor Nathan Deal to veto the bill. Unlike Indiana’s then-Governor Pence, Governor Deal listened.
Deal vetoed HB 757, all the while making a passionate case for why religious people should oppose RFRAs when they are intended as a tool to sanction discrimination:
Georgia is a welcoming State filled with warm, friendly and loving people. Our cities and countryside are populated with people who worship God in a myriad of ways and in very diverse settings. Our people work side by side without regard to the color of our skin, or the religion we adhere to. We are working to make life better for our families and our communities. That is the character of Georgia. I intend to do my part to keep it that way… 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.
The backlash in 2016 did not prevent legislators from introducing similar legislation in 2017. But Governor Deal promptly shut down their efforts when he said again: “I didn’t want there to be any confusion about where I stand on the RFRA bill: I have no desire or appetite to entertain that legislation…This is not something that is part of my agenda, and it’s something I do not view as being beneficial to the state.” Some are fighting to bring back a similar bill in 2018. We will be watching.
Thanks to Governor Deal, Georgia—at least for now—will escape the negative attention and backlash that states like Indiana are suffering. See Americans United’s work on HB 757 here.
Is Your State In Danger of Enacting a Harmful RFRA Bill?
Find out about state-level RFRA legislation and RFRA-like provisions in state constitutions with our RFRA Map. Click here for more details.