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RFRA Seeks to Erode Our Most Fundamental Rights Cas Carr ~ Atlanta, GA
New Report Highlights Use of Religious Exemptions to Deny Civil Rights February 1, 2016

Civil rights leaders gather in Georgia for report release, as lawmakers consider Sen. Kirk’s religious exemptions legislation

ATLANTA – National and local civil rights leaders gathered in Atlanta this morning to release a new report from the Leadership Conference Education Fund which documents the connection between the use of religious exemptions legislation and rhetoric, and centuries-long efforts to deny civil rights to various minority communities. The report release occurred as lawmakers just a few miles away considered a religious exemptions bill sponsored by Senator Greg Kirk (R-Americus). Kirk’s broad bill would allow individuals and businesses – including businesses and non-profits that contract with the state government – to deny services to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Georgians.

Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, issued the following statement through the Georgia Unites Against Discrimination coalition:

“The freedom of religious is a fundamental value that’s protected in our state laws and under the First Amendment of our Constitution, and no one would ever try to change that. But we are a state and a nation of laws, and every American – including those who are gay and transgender – deserve to be treated fairly under the law. Today’s report is proof that much of the rhetoric we’re hearing in support of exemptions bills is the latest iteration of a centuries-old line of attack that is designed to deny specific populations basic civil rights.

“Rather than consider legislation that weakens Georgia’s economy and singles out certain people for harm, we should be talking about how we can all move forward together with legislation that makes Georgia the best possible place to raise a family and do business. That’s why we’re committed to continuing to work with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle on legislation that ultimately will protect all Georgians from discrimination.”

The report, Striking a Balance: Advancing Civil and Human Rights While Preserving Religious Liberty, cites examples of how religious exemptions legal arguments and rhetoric were used to defend practices like slavery and racial segregation; and to attack efforts to expand civil rights for women, immigrants, religious minorities and more. The report is available online here.

Today, similar rhetoric is used to advance bills that would harm the LGBT community. In Georgia alone this legislative session, lawmakers have introduced seven bills that include religious exemptions. In fact, the hearing for Sen. Kirk’s religious exemption bill – announced moments before today’s even began – concluded during the introduction of the civil rights panel.

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