A path forward for religious liberty in Georgia

An overflow crowd fills the Capitol Rotunda as fired Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran addresses supporters Tuesday. AJC Photo / Ben Gray

An overflow crowd fills the Capitol Rotunda as fired Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran addresses supporters in January. AJC Photo / Ben Gray

I have my doubts about the “parade of horribles” opponents of the religious-religious bill have conjured should it become law. I am more certain about the horrible parade we’ll see if it doesn’t.

I mean another year of supporters and critics alike marching on the Gold Dome. Another year of dire warnings from the bill’s opponents — after Klan hoods were speciously invoked, swastikas must be next — and its backers alike.

The truth is that a narrow bill, with a long track record of having few practical implications, has been oversold by both sides.

Senate Bill 129 would do one thing: In court cases where citizens claim government actions infringe on their religious rights, the bill would tell judges where the line is drawn. The judges would decide whether the citizen’s rights were substantially burdened, and whether the government’s actions were narrowly crafted to serve a compelling interest.

The bill legalizes nothing. It is no get-out-of-jail-free card for those who might discriminate or otherwise seek refuge in the law for doing the illegal.

The law’s lack of protection for those who would discriminate against gay individuals and couples, the bogeyman raised most often, is clear not only from cases in New Mexico and Washington where such a defense failed. It is evident from the efforts by states that already have such laws to create a further protection for, say, florists and bakers who want to stay out of the gay-marriage business.

Such measures surely wouldn’t be necessary if this law actually did what the critics say it would.

That said, the bill wouldn’t prohibit much, either. The history of the federal law on which SB 129 is based is one of relatively few challenges and even fewer successes by people of faith.

For the few challengers to prevail in a RFRA case, the law most definitely matters. It should become law for that reason. But the bill’s opponents have not been alone in exaggerating the breadth of its impact.

Yet, facts and nuance are rapidly wilting under the heat of the rhetoric from both sides. Their struggle has taken on a symbolism that each side at this point might value more than the legislation’s text itself.

That’s why there will be no quiet death for SB 129 in the House. It will remain alive for next year’s session, and proponents will not forget to resume their cause. Loudly.

But there will be one big difference between now and then: It appears likely the U.S. Supreme Court this summer will declare gay marriage a constitutional right throughout the land.

If that happens, there will be no separating the present religious-liberty debate from that issue.

This presents an opportunity. Pass SB 129 this year, to address what we might call “gay marriage-neutral” religious liberty. Lawmakers then could focus on crafting a more specific public-accommodations law that considers both the rights of gay couples and conscience protections for small-business proprietors.

This is the kind of delicate balancing of interests American legislatures are supposed to undertake. Passing SB 129 would clear the way for Georgia’s legislature to do just that.

Reader Comments 0

64 comments
cancunmark1959
cancunmark1959

Like most of the bills that the GOP majority under the gold dome is pushing for is this simple fact:  We have a solution, now we have to find a problem for it.  I wonder when the people is this state will get their heads out of the red clay and realize these folks are not looking out for your best interests.  Not saying the Dems have been much better lately, but I don't think they would have proposed a bill for religious freedom when the US Constitution already guarantees that right. 


WAKE UP PEOPLE!  Quit voting for the party and really look at what the candidates are about.

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

This would allow gays (or whoever) to clearly see who would refuse them service, and the embarrassment from attempting to accept their service and be refused.

LogicalDude got me thinking....

No shoes

No shirt

No service

Howz'bout....

No man

No woman

No service

Of course, they'd have to be more specific with the type of service, be it baker, flowers, attire, or venue.

Litigious types will look for any opening wherein they can pick their nits.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

successes by people of faith.


I so love how the phrase "people of faith" is deployed here. As if people of faith overwhelmingly--nay, universally!--would consider this legislation's passage some kind of a "success."

Let's call a spade a spade here, Kyle. This is being done for conservative people of faith.

Jack C.Hall Jr.
Jack C.Hall Jr.

These laws are clearly unconstitutional and on their face discriminatory...even if the intent is not stated they will have a discriminatory effect which is enough to render them illegal. Have people forgotten or are people today just too dumb to know that one of our founders' greatest fears was something like this happening. This country was founded on the principles of freedom from religious oppression....that means no one person's religious beliefs are above another person's.....and no law should make it so. George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson all proclaimed repeatedly that this country was in NO WAY founded on any type of religion....not even the Christian religion. 


If these unthinking, reckless politicians insist on spitting in the face of our founders and passing these laws then they should at least require the person discriminating to disclose the type of people they don't want to serve and state the religious belief to justify it. For instance if a Christian person runs a Cake shop, Christians believe Jews are going to hell, so if he wishes to refuse service to Jews because of that religious belief, then he should have to publish that at the court house. There is no reason for a Jewish person to have to face that type of humiliation & rejection....they deserve a warning.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Jack C.Hall Jr. "These laws are clearly unconstitutional and on their face discriminatory."

The U.S. Supreme Court begs to differ.

Liberty for all
Liberty for all

The Georgia Chamber and Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, Coca-Cola, Home Depot, UPS, Delta Airlines all support and desperately need passage of the transportation bill.  The economic benefits of attracting new business require a modern transportation infrastructure that will benefit all Georgians including the LGBT community.  What the LGBT community fails to realize is that religious conservatives and their legislators are key to the transportation bills passage. This depends on getting something in return for their support, and that is passage of the sorely needed RFRA.

The LGBT community will get their special rights with nationwide "marriage equality" this summer.  All Georgians benefit from supporting passage of the transportation bill.  In the meantime, the LGBT community needs to learn the art of corporate political compromise with the ability to act with grace while taking one for the team.

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

Leave it to leftists to oppose expanding liberty.

Any time there's an attack on Our Constitutional Rights, you can be sure the left is behind it.  Speech codes.  Gun control. Busybody government forcing people to purchase products sold by their campaign contributors.  Attacks on Boy Scouts, for crying out loud.

Leftists fear and hate real freedom.

IReportYouWhine#1
IReportYouWhine#1

The only fire and brimstone I've seen called down on anyone is that reserved for people who defend traditional marriage. And it's far worse than anything found in the Bible. 

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@IReportYouWhine#1 You haven't been paying attention then.


Calling people out for their bigotry doesn't not make that person a bigot. 

MHSmith
MHSmith

@IReportYouWhine#1 

What the Bible has to say offends people because it tells us we are all sinners and God is the ultimate of righteousness. You cannot "sugar coat" thingsfrom the Bible that God said for the sake of being agreeable. That is not the Christianity of the Bible and does not further serve the cause of Jesus Christ.

There is no way possible to have a Biblical or traditional same sex marriage. God only performed one marriage of  Bible record and it is the only marriage acceptable to God and his followers: That one marriage was the union between a man and a woman.

I don't expect gays to ever understand the spiritual connection or the importance God puts on marriage and all that is spirituality involved in the traditional Biblical marriage or Biblical marriage. 

But that is why Christians defend marriage with all possible opposition to any man made civil mockery of it.  


Fortunately we don't have to call down the wrath of God on homosexuality...Romans 1 chapter 20-28... he has already judged sin and all man made mockeries of his righteousness. 

.

Romans 1:20-28King James Version (KJV)

20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:

21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,

23 And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.

24 Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:

25 Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.

26 For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:

27 And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.

28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;

.

.https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+1%3A20-28&version=KJV

 

So when gays start to demand that people of the Christian faith perform gays marriage services for them in our churches, just as they now demand Christian bakers bake them a gay wedding cake or face legal actions and discrimination against our religious beliefs, the reason for these pre-emptive religious freedoms bills thought unnecessary might register as needful with a few more people of good conscience, religious or not.     

BurntGrassroot
BurntGrassroot

In my opinion, SB 129 is an example of Georgia General Assembly (GGA) majoring in minor. It seems to me that this legislation is not so much an attempt to legislate religious liberty, as a misuse of religious liberty to deny goods and services to others. Either people of faith trust their deity or not. As a Christian, I trust God to enable me to witness through my vocation to the unrepentant and unbelievers. The Bible says: 1) It's better to be wronged and defrauded than to go to civil law against a fellow Christian (1Cor6.4-8); 2) Christians must not give offense in matters of religious liberty (Mt17.24-27); 3) Christians must keep civil and religious matters separate (Mk12.13-17) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1cor6.4-8%2Cmt17.24-27%2Cmk12.13-17&version=ESV


What percentage of cases are about this issue? How many cases have judges heard where this legislation's guidance would have been helpful? Wouldn't SCOTUS have to strike down states' (e.g. Georgia's OCG 16-6) laws against sodomy before it could declare gay marriage a US constitutional right? 


Rather than Georgia voters protesting and GGA arguing about SB 129, I believe our state has more pressing issues such as reinstating employers' contribution to Georgia's unemployment fund that Georgia borrowed from the federal government, modifying the laws about Georgia lottery to specify minimum 33% to go to pre-k and higher education, and fighting voter suppression tactics. I also believe that, with respect to discourse, we should stop agreeing to disagree and agree to communicate in order to reinstate "civil" to the conversation. 

MHSmith
MHSmith

Hint to smart bakers everywhere with strongly held religious convictions or of conscience against making gay wedding cakes: 

Simply refuse to make a wedding cake for anyone.    


My that was simple. LOL



straker
straker

Kyle - "to clearly state who they intend to discriminate against"


Kyle, if I'm reading this correctly, then down the road, I see the Supreme Court deciding if these religious liberties bills are constitutional.

TheRealJDW
TheRealJDW

"The truth is that a narrow bill, with a long track record of having few practical implications, has been oversold by both sides."


That folks is the real issue...another year...another session of Repugnican Gold Domers...Nothing Accomplished

TheRealJDW
TheRealJDW

@Kyle_Wingfield @TheRealJDW


The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.


This looks just like the last 12 years of same old same old.  But hey we can Go Fish.

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

" Lawmakers then could focus on crafting a more specific public-accommodations law that considers both the rights of gay couples and conscience protections for small-business proprietors."

Kyle, I assume you mean "conscience protections" means that small business proprietors could refuse service for gays. If you do not mean this, then please clarify what you mean. 


If you actually DO mean that "conscience protections" means discrimination against gays (or anyone else), would you allow an amendment to the bill for those who seek protection under this law to clearly state who they intend to discriminate against?  This would allow gays (or whoever) to clearly see who would refuse them service, and the embarrassment from attempting to accept their service and be refused. 


Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@LogicalDude That is what I meant. I meant it along the lines of what they are trying to produce in Utah, to general acclaim from various parties: http://national.deseretnews.com/article/3803/are-there-win-win-answers-for-lgbt-rights-and-religious-conscience.html

As for how it works out practically, I think something that prevents unnecessary conflict would be good to include, if there's an acceptable way to do that. (In other words, I agree with the sentiment of a kind of "high sign" but haven't given any thought to how that might work.) But I would note that I think the exceptions would be very narrow not just in terms of which firms could participate -- I think they'd have to be very small, maybe even the kind where the owners are the only employees -- but also in terms of services offered. So, we're not talking about a Jim Crow lunch counter situation. But I would emphasize such a compromise would have to be very well thought-out and the result of a long, good-faith discussion. It would not be easy. I don't have the answers as I sit here today.

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

@Kyle_Wingfield @LogicalDude I agree that IF the law allows discrimination, then clear signs should be posted saying that "WE DISCRIMINATE AGAINST PEOPLE" (and insert who they discriminate against.) 


Otherwise, I would think that any business should serve everyone equally without regard to skin color, sexual orientation, or other ways.  I support the signs because most others think like this, and will not give businesses that discriminate against others.  

KnottiBuoy
KnottiBuoy

Kyle, Utah's law had nothing to do with pubic accommodation law (government and business).  Utah florists, cake bakers and wedding planners can still freely discriminate against same gender couples.  The US Constitution already provides protection for religious liberty, and Utah's bill was simply repackaged and sold under a different legislative wrapper for LGBT employment and housing non discrimination protections.  


The question I have is how far do you want to go with conscience protections?  Utah law continues to allow religious institutions to discriminate based on race, sex and disability, even though those characteristics are protected by federal anti-discrimination laws. Utah maintains the country's broadest anti-discrimination exemptions for religious organizations.  


SCOTUS has ruled that the US Constitution neither knows, nor tolerates classes among its citizens.  I kind of like that concept... do you?

Jefferson1776
Jefferson1776

@Kyle_Wingfield @LogicalDude  Why not tell business owners to keep your religions at home or church, but you have to be fair to people if you are going to do business with the public.  You can't humor the whole world, but you should always be fair to people.  Not everyone may be cut out to do business with the public,  if they can't be decent to people.

MHSmith
MHSmith

@LogicalDude Pretty much what I pointed out herein, oh about 1 hour ago...

 The rules are different and apply differently for private employers and their employees than for government and all of our employees in this area. Keeping that difference in place as it should rightly be kept, whether for greater clarity or as reenforcing the point, much as was the case with the human rights of the Declaration which again were passed in the form of Constitutional amendments we often call the "bill of rights" to reassure or "double down" on protecting our rights and religious liberties(YEA OR NAY) from government.

 

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Kyle_Wingfield @LogicalDude Could be a sign with two guys holding hands with a big red X on it posted  outside the business' door. Or,the same sign, with a bullseye  drawn over it.

Dr. Irving
Dr. Irving

"That's Jeb Bush meeting Ludacris"


The first sign of an imminent apocalypse.

straker
straker

Since Georgia has been a State since the 1700's, and since religion has always been in our State, It seems odd that we just now seem to need some sort of religious liberties bill.

Don't Tread
Don't Tread

@straker Not really....your brand of liberalism has only been around since the 90s.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@Kyle_Wingfield @HeadleyLamar Nope


Its easy to be misinformed on that issue.You misinform your readers on that issue on a regular schedule it seems. 


The New Orleans RFD being case in point. Betcha Ludcious doesn't know that the schools are scoring better because they change the metric used to grade them . 

MarkVV
MarkVV

This debate here is bound to follow the usual route – people asking for reasons for the bill, and Kyle referring to a federal law and laws in other states. When Kyle argues for judges needing a clear legal standard, it is to obscure the fact that the purpose is to force the use of “close scrutiny” by the courts, showing “compelling government interest” when someone claims that his/her religious rights have been violated, which means that anybody who feels discriminated by someone claiming a religious reason for the action has that much more of a burden to prevail. For that reason, yes the bill would make discrimination easier, because it would make the legal fight against it more difficult and thus discourage those, who would feel discriminated, from taking a legal action..

GMFA
GMFA

And so we need this Bill for what purpose Kyle?

straker
straker

Kyle, perhaps you can give us a short list of recent "competing claims of existing religious liberties against other rights/interests" that require this religious liberties bill.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

If there is one thing Georgia needs its Religious Liberty !!!


Oh those poor persecuted Christians !!!!!


Never mind we are still 41st in unemployment.


Ill say it again. When the majority starts screaming about how persecuted THEY are. Well hold onto your hats .. 


Never mind in other states they are using bills like this to discriminate against gays etc. We are told in a forward thinking state like Georgia this wont happen. LOL.


Pull the other one. 


I don't think its any coincidence either you are seeing this stuff at the same time same sex marriage is became law, even in the bigoted South. 

MHSmith
MHSmith

Good job Kyle, you got them all timed up and waiting, waiting, waiting...  

LOL LOL LOL LOL LOL

PinkoNeoConLibertarian
PinkoNeoConLibertarian

One scenario that I've not really seen a definitive answer to is in the gay marriage area. If SCOTUS rules that gay marriage is a constitutional right but some clerk in some court somewhere doesn't agree with that due to their religious beliefs, is that clerk still required to issue a license? This happens now (see Alabama) with no true repercussions. 

My feeling in this case is that if you aren't willing to carry out ALL of the duties your job requires, you shouldn't have the job. The soup line awaits you.


Perhaps this has been addressed in previous columns. If so, please provide a link if possible.


MHSmith
MHSmith

@Kyle_Wingfield @PinkoNeoConLibertarian 

I love it when all they've got to argue against Kyle, is just to argue. The rules are different and apply differently for private employers and their employees than for government and all of our employees in this area. Keeping that difference in place as it should rightly be kept, whether for greater clarity or as reenforcing the point, much as was the case with the human rights of the Declaration which again were passed in the form of Constitutional amendments we often call the "bill of rights" to reassure or "double down" on protecting our rights and religious liberties(YEA OR NAY) from government. 

   

KnottiBuoy
KnottiBuoy

@PinkoNeoConLibertarian In some states clerks "may" also perform marriages, but it's not a specific job requirement.  If they do perform marriages, they must include all couples eligible for a marriage license or NOT perform any marriages at all in order to be constitutional.   Issuing marriage licenses is usually a job requirement and won't be  constitutional to refuse some eligible couples but not others.  Due process and equal protection under the law. 

straker
straker

Kyle


I am still waiting to hear from you exactly WHAT religious liberties do these people want that they don't have now.


And waiting.


And waiting.


And waiting.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@straker And I have told you umpteen times you're asking the wrong question based on your ignoring everything I've said about the bill.

For anyone who might actually read, the bill is about establishing a clear legal standard for judges to use when evaluating competing claims of existing religious liberties against other rights/interests.