Defending freedom to practice religious beliefs

Coming into this session, I knew that there would be a lot of attention on the religious freedom debate. Between last session and this one, my constituents shared their opinions quite clearly. If you hold a traditional definition of marriage, it is much more difficult to live your faith in public in the politically correct world we live in today.

With that in mind, I introduced Senate Bill 284, called the “First Amendment Defense Act of Georgia”, with the goal of protecting people of all faiths from adverse government reactions upon a person or organization based on their sincerely held religious belief regarding marriage.

Of course, my bill has been called many things. I would encourage anyone who is considering labeling my bill to read it. Nothing in the bill will allow a public employee to neglect their responsibilities in service to the public. Nothing in the bill permits discrimination.

As part of the legislative process, the First Amendment Defense Act has been incorporated into another piece of legislation seeking to protect pastors, ministers and other religious leaders from having to perform a marriage ceremony that contradicts their own religious beliefs.

House Bill 757, sponsored by Rep. Kevin Tanner, passed the House unanimously. His legislation works hand in hand with what I am hoping to accomplish and, as a combined bill, makes a strong piece of legislation in defense of the right of religious expression.

The legal reality of our country is that the Supreme Court declared that marriage is a right between two people and not necessarily a man and a woman. Personally, I don’t agree with that position, but it is not up to me, the General Assembly or the state of Georgia to address that fact.

It is now upon the shoulders of the state legislature to ensure that all sincerely held religious beliefs that do not violate our laws are protected with the same clarity and tenacity. The religious community is seeking tolerance for their beliefs.

Say, for example, a religion believes marriage is between a man and a woman. If a same-sex couple was able to compel a religious leader in a place of worship operating under a faith that defines marriage as between one man and one woman to perform a marriage ceremony, the religious leader and potentially the religious organization would be compelled to explicitly act in a way that disregards the tenets of their faith. This is the conflict currently present in our state when the rights of a couple seeking to get married come into conflict with a religious institution that is seeking to operate in accordance with their religious doctrine.

House Bill 757 as passed by the Senate is a meaningful step to defending the free exercise and expression of people of all faiths who define marriage based upon their religious beliefs. It would protect the religious leader as well as the religious organization from discrimination based on their religiously held definition of marriage.

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Georgia State Sen. Greg Kirk, R-Americus, is Deputy Whip for the Senate Majority Caucus.