Why FADA isn’t the carefully balanced law Georgia needs

Supporters of a RFRA bill in Georgia, state Capitol, January 2015. (AJC Photo / Brant Sanderlin)

Supporters of a RFRA bill in Georgia, state Capitol, January 2015. (AJC Photo / Brant Sanderlin)

Here are a few things I believe about the so-called First Amendment Defense Act, now roiling lawmakers under the Gold Dome:

I believe the GOP state senators who say they don’t intend the bill, known as FADA, to permit discrimination by citizens and businesses. I believe them when they say they just want to prevent discrimination against those citizens and businesses by government.

I believe FADA, as currently written, has been mischaracterized as being about religious liberty. Every defense it gives those who believe in the traditional definition of marriage also applies to those who believe in same-sex marriage. If you’re going to believe the worst about people, and think FADA would permit discrimination against gay couples, you must also believe it would prevent government from denying contracts, grants, etc. to gay couples. It cuts both ways.

But I also believe the bill’s actual language doesn’t strike the careful balance its advocates sought.

I hear FADA’s advocates say it protects people and “faith-based organizations” from participating in a marriage of which they disapprove. I’ve asked them to show me where the bill says that. Because the text I see is far broader than that.

On a couple of occasions, I’ve asked its advocates if the bill would undermine any non-discrimination laws regarding employment or housing. I have mostly received blank stares, as if they hadn’t considered it.

On the other hand, I sense its opponents don’t want to come right out and say they’d be willing to countenance the closing of a Catholic adoption agency, for instance, if its operators could be coerced by government to place children with families that don’t meet that church’s spiritual guidelines. They’d rather insist it’ll never come to that.

Which, as it happens, is the same response FADA’s supporters give when asked about businesses using the bill to justify discrimination.

So after witnessing a lot discussion and hand-wringing and accusations in and around the Capitol regarding this bill, I believe I’m still where I was a few weeks ago: The middle of a fast-paced, election-year legislative session is no time to try to divine all the consequences, intended or unintended, of a novel bill like this.

There is a good argument for having legislators, not judges, sort out where one proverbial nose ends and another begins when it comes to LGBT rights and religious liberty. FADA’s authors tried to square that circle by offering a general, marriage-related protection for all. But in its generality, it would draw the line in a way we can’t predict, because this is untraveled ground.

It would be better to move forward with time-tested measures whose effects are more knowable, such as the federal public accommodations law and Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Then, take the coming months to study what, if anything, more should be done.

Because here’s one last thing I believe about this entire matter: If an imprudent bill becomes law, and then a mighty backlash damages the state and causes the Legislature to backtrack, there won’t be a second chance to ensure the kind of protections FADA’s supporters want.

Reader Comments 0

19 comments
Brad_Hansen
Brad_Hansen

I find it sad and ironic that this legislation was named the "First Amendment Defense Act." Granting special preferences to selected religious groups is actually a clear violation of the First Amendment. Apparently most of the Georgia Senate has difficulty understanding the meaning of "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion...". FADA crosses that line by establishing special rights for certain religions, thus granting those religions more favorable status in the view of Georgia law.

And the bill doesn't just discriminate against the LGBT community. It includes the phrase "unmarried couples" -- so an unmarried heterosexual couple could be legally denied services by an adoption agency, or a motel room, Catholic hospital, etc.

Not only is FADA wrong on an ethical basis, if it passes the House it will lead to a very expensive and wasteful use of taxpayer money to attempt to defend it in a round of court cases. Eventually this will reach the Supreme Court where it is bound to be struck down. This bill is wrong on so many levels.

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

Democrats would oppose a bill that consisted of the state equivalent of Our First Amendment. They are not Americans.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@LilBarryBailout Democrats would unanimously approve the first amendment.


Especially this first part.


 Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.


Its why the Pilgrims came here.

Brad_Hansen
Brad_Hansen

@Lil_Barry_Bailout @Hedley_Lammar @LilBarryBailout Lil_Barry, I wonder how supportive you would be if this law included a "religious freedom" clause that allowed Muslims shop owners or service agencies to require women to wear head-scarves and men to wear pants that reached their knees (and all the other Sharia requirements) in order to enter their establishment.

Strange how claims of "attacks on faith" are only about attacks on certain right-wing Christian beliefs. And, assuming you represent the majority in GA and are claiming to be a Christian, didn't Christ state that the 2nd most important commandment is "to love thy neighbor as thyself"? How is it a loving act to deny a couple service simply because they are not married or are a same-sex married couple?

Here's_to_Blue
Here's_to_Blue

"It would be better to move forward with time-tested measures whose effects are more knowable, such as the federal public accommodations law and Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Then, take the coming months to study what, if anything, more should be done."

Kyle, well said.  And THIS ^^^ is a true, traditional conservative response, not the all-too-frequent knee-jerk reaction of today's members of the Republican party, which has largely jettisoned traditional conservatism and embraced the viewpoint of reactionaries.

TicTacs
TicTacs

Money and the courts will show this is about stupid.

TicTacs
TicTacs

@lvg @Jefferson1776 Truth is not all of them are stupid, some are just greedy.  But the Ds have much of the same.

Bruno2
Bruno2

Kyle:  I believe them when they say they just want to prevent discrimination against those citizens and businesses by government.

Here's my suggestion:  Grow up and accept that gay people are here to stay and that they deserve the same rights and privileges as every other citizen of this state.

Lil_Barry_Bailout
Lil_Barry_Bailout

@Bruno2

Yes, they do.  And civil unions could have provided for that, but it was never about equal rights.  It was about the left attacking people of faith and the religious protections afforded by Our First Amendment.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Bruno2 Did you miss the part where every provision of the bill applied to same-sex married couples as well as opposite-sex married couples? The bill was still too broad and its consequences too unpredictable, but it had nothing to do with "accept(ing)" or not "that gay people are here to stay."

TicTacs
TicTacs

@Bruno2 Truth is they have ALWAYS been here and never left.

Bruno2
Bruno2

@Kyle_Wingfield @Bruno2 Thank you for the reply and sorry that this is not an issue which I can be courteous about.  As stated before, no one will ever convince me that poor treatment of gay people simply because they are gay is justifiable.

I didn't research the nuances of this bill because it's not the kind of law that GA needs.  We need strong anti-discrimination laws that include sexual orientation ala NJ, not laws that give cover for people to discriminate as long as they cite a religious basis.

http://www.state.nj.us/lps/dcr/law.html#LAD

Eye wonder
Eye wonder

FADA is the answer to a question that was never asked, isn't now being asked, and won't in the future be asked. In other words, FADA is the solution to a problem that doesn't exist.

lvg
lvg

Hospitals closing in rural Georgia, Bridges and infrastructure crumbling, education lags way behind other states, transportation is horrific in Atlanta,  children dying while under state supervision and freedom to be a bigot is the most important issue for right wing yahoos in Georgia. Do these clowns purposely try to be a national embarrassment every year?

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

The bill isnt even needed and is just some sort of weird reaction to gay marriage becoming legal.


Everyone is free to practice their Religion freely in Georgia today. Well maybe not if you are a Muslim in Kennesaw but most everyone.


There are much more important things to tend to.