So, why do we need a RFRA in Georgia? In 1997, the U.S Supreme Court ruled the federal RFRA did not apply to the states, leading many to copy the federal language to their own books. Furthermore, free exercise of religion has been downgraded in court cases since then, lowering the burden of proof state or local governments must reach to infringe on one’s sincerely-held religious – or nonreligious – beliefs. Currently in Georgia, government must show only a “rational reason” to intervene even if your religious convictions are substantially burdened. A mirror-image of the 1993 federal RFRA, which dozens of other states currently utilize, would ensure governments in Georgia meet a higher legal standard to infringe on your free exercise rights. In our state, this “strict scrutiny” standard currently applies to all rights as defined in the 1st Amendment except religious freedom.
It is clear from recent public discussion that the law - a clean RFRA - is not the issue. The left and the media have hijacked this debate in an effort to browbeat the business community and those of faith into submission. The fact remains: a clean RFRA, which I have pledged to sign as governor, will protect all Georgians from the heavy hand of government regardless of faith. Such a bill would also be good for business in our state. Georgia has consistently been ranked the top state in which to do business according to Site Selection Magazine, but eight of the other top 10 states have RFRA policies in place. Our business climate is clouded by uncertainty over what our state will or will not do regarding religious freedom. Passing a RFRA which mirrors the current federal language would provide a stable, predictable environment for businesses looking to locate or stay in Georgia.