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Legal Scholars: RFRA allows a ‘license to discriminate’ against LGBT Georgians January 27, 2015

legalfbOnly one week into the legislative session and opposition to House Bill 29—the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA)—is beginning to pile up.

Today, legal scholars with backgrounds in religious freedom and civil rights, including two from Emory University and one from Mercer University, sent a letter to Governor Deal in opposition to RFRA, which if passed into law will legalize discrimination in the name of religious freedom.

In addition to Governor Deal the letter was sent to Lieutenant Governor Gasey Cagle, Senate President David Shafer, House Speaker David Ralston, Senator Josh McKoon, and sponsor of HB 29, Representative Sam Teasley.

Frequently known as the “License to Discriminate Law,” these legal scholars argue that if such a bill comes to pass, it will “send a powerful message that religiously-based refusals to provide equal treatment to particular classes of employees, customers, and persons seeking public service are legally superior to any legal prohibitions on discrimination.”  

The legal scholars note that such a law will open the doors to discrimination in Georgia where by individuals could claim that any number of laws don’t apply to them.

“HB 29 would permit the religious beliefs of some Georgians to deprive others of their equal rights to participate in the state’s economic and social life.  In its current form, we strongly urge you to reject it,” the letter states.

The letter lists just a number of laws that could be ignored by individuals if RFRA is passed into law.

“Some business owners, or other persons, might object to intimate same-sex relationships, marriage or otherwise; other business owners might object to inter-racial or inter-faith marriages; still others might have religious objections to out of wedlock pregnancy or unmarried parenthood.”  

More so, the legal experts argue that such a law is unnecessary because religious freedom is already protected in the state constitution.

“HB 29 is unnecessary to protect freedom of belief and worship in Georgia.  The state constitution already protects each person’s natural and inalienable right to worship God, each according to the dictates of that person’s own conscience.”

In the letter, the legal experts call for the proposed bill to be amended to exclude all for-profit business entities, including corporations, from coverage as “persons” protected by the bill.  They also urge the inclusion of a provision that the bill does not apply to any laws – federal, state or local – that prohibit invidious discrimination by public officials, employers, business owners, and those involved in the sale or rental of residential housing.

Last year, a similar proposed bill was defeated, in large part due to the unequivocal opposition by the business community, including such mainstays of Georgia’s economy like Delta Airlines and Coca-Cola. The Georgia Chamber of Commerce has once again stated that it opposes any bill that would allow for discrimination and many business leaders are concerned that this proposed law will badly damage the business reputation of the state and jeopardize Georgia’s ability to grow its economy by negatively impacting its reputation as a leader in global commerce.

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We were so grateful to be able to profile Rachel last year. Her story is inspiring and it's sad to see her treated unfairly. Thank you Rachel for standing up for yourself!

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