Agreement on both sides: ‘Religious liberty’ bill would gut local anti-discrimination ordinances

Updated at 6:05 p.m.: After the adoption of a non-discrimination clause introduced by state Rep. Mike Jacobs, R-Brookhaven, S.B. 129 was tabled by the House Judiciary Committee, making it very unlikely that it will reach a House floor vote before the end of the session.

Original: After 10 weeks of vague arguments, the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday got down to the nitty-gritty of what SB 129, the religious liberty bill, would do. And they found some agreement.

In a presentation to the full committee, which could vote later this afternoon on whether to move the bill, author Josh McKoon, a Republican state senator from Columbus, said that adding a non-discrimination clause would gut his bill.

“That amendment would completely undercut the purpose of the bill,” McKoon said.

The senator was speaking specifically of an amendment, rejected on Wednesday, that would bar discrimination as laid-out in local, state and federal law.

"First of all, when you talk about local law, we’re going to be talking about re-defining religious liberty in every county of the state,” McKoon said.

Several witnesses later, Jeff Graham, the executive director of Georgia Equality came back to that point:

“There are currently 59 cities and counties in Georgia that have enacted some local form of local ordinance that protects at least some in our community against many of these forms of discrimination. We as a community need these protections…

“Should this bill pass, those municipal protections could be rendered meaningless if the person denying the service, harassing the co-worker, or firing the employee claims they did so out of a religious conviction.”

McKoon was called back up to the committee to address this and other points. He said this:

“I said it before and I’ll say it again. If the intention is to provide every citizen in this state a strict scrutiny of their ‘free exercise’ claim, then you do not want to delegate what religious freedom is going to mean, depending on what hundreds of local governments have to say on the subject of what consider to be anti-discrimination language. I think that would create a lot of problems.”

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About the Author

Jim Galloway
Jim Galloway
Jim Galloway is a three-decade veteran of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution who writes the Political Insider blog and column.