Religious freedom bill vetoed 7 years ago, Ga. lawmakers looking to try again

ATLANTA — Seven years after a Georgia governor vetoed a religious freedom bill, another lawmaker is ready to try again.

Channel 2′s Richard Elliot learned some critics ae worried the bill could open the door to legalized discrimination.

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In 2016, then-Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed a different, bigger bill that focused on similar issues. This newer version is more focused and mirrors a federal statute already on the books and it has a lot of support in the Georgia Senate.

“Georgians do not have true constitutional protections for free exercise of religion,” Acworth State Sen. Ed Setzler said.

Setzler introduced his religious freedom bill and insists that Georgia needs a law that prevents state governments from passing laws that could conflict with religious beliefs.

“This is a matter of government action versus people of faith, and I think the balancing test addresses specific concerns that have been raised by the LGBTQ community,” Setzler said.


Stone Mountain State Senator Kim Jackson raised some of those concerns with Setzler on the Senate floor.

She’s Georgia’s first openly gay state senator and worries this bill be a path to legalized discrimination.

“What I became really clear with him about is because we don’t have a non-discriminatory law in Georgia, it puts people who might be discriminated against it. It makes them very vulnerable,” Jackson said.

Georgia Baptist Mission Board President Mike Griffin has pushed this legislation for decades.

“I stand with the Constitution, and I’m for the First Amendment, so I think that anybody that agrees with the First Amendment shouldn’t have a problem with this at all,” Griffin said.

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Georgia equality’s Jeff Graham says he’s not anti-RFRA. He’d rather see lawmakers pass a non-discrimination law that would protect all people, not just people of faith.

“The challenge of putting forth just special protections for people of faith is that it can, unfortunately, be used to create a license to discriminate against other people,” Graham said.

The bill has wide support in the senate but maybe not in other places. Georgia’s business community vocalized opposition to the 2016 version of this bill. A bill vetoed by then Deal. There are indications that the same business community will oppose this version, too.