State Sen. Marty Harbin is a sponsor of "religious liberty" legislation. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

A Georgia Republican’s case for RFRA in the Amazon era

Gov. Nathan Deal and other critics of “religious liberty” legislation hope that the state’s quest for Amazon’s second headquarters puts the kibash on another round of debate over the contentious topic. A Senate Republican made clear that won’t happen. 

State Sen. Marty Harbin, a sponsor of the legislation, has vowed to revive it ahead of this year’s session. He recently posted a YouTube clip and wrote an op-ed suggesting that a state version of the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act won’t take Georgia out of the hunt for Amazon. 

“While it is a bit early to speculate on where the second headquarters will be built, I am willing to make a bold prediction: Amazon will accept RFRA whether they like it or not,” he said.

Harbin cited other states with similar legislation, including several that have top contenders for the $5 billion project. They include Amazon’s current home state of Washington, where a court decision has approved RFRA-like provisions.  

“Ignore the fearmongering. Georgians deserve the same First Amendment religious protections Amazon currently enjoys in the state of Washington,” he said.

Georgia lawmakers have wrestled for years over religious liberty legislation. Supporters of the religious liberty legislation typically want Georgia to join the 21 other states that have similar laws they say will protect people of faith from government intrusion, as well as strengthen legal protections for opponents of gay marriage.

The opponents, including powerful business boosters and gay rights groups, warn it amounts to legalized discrimination and point to executives from dozens of big-name companies, including Apple, Disney and Time Warner, who threatened boycotts if Georgia adopted the legislation.

Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed a version of the legislation in 2016 and his top aide Chris Riley warned that reviving the debate this year could jeopardize the state’s chances to win the project. House Speaker David Ralston also remains a critic, nodding to controversies in other states that approved similar measures.

“I haven’t seen very much out of the states that have tackled these issues that makes me want to model after places like North Carolina and Indiana and the others,” he said Thursday. 

“I’m kind of a forward looking guy, and I want to look forward,” Ralston added. “Georgia is a big, growing, diverse state. And my focus has been and continues to be on creating jobs in this state.” 

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About the Author

Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.