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Is ‘religious liberty’ back at the Georgia Legislature?

Republican lawmakers in Georgia dipped their toe back into the religious liberty battle that consumed the state last year, filing legislation in the state Senate that would constitutionally protect religious organizations’ ability to receive public aid.

Senate Resolution 105, sponsored by state Sen. Bill Heath, R-Bremen, would protect government grants and contracts, among other things, held by faith-based organizations such as those that receive money to aid in adoption. Heath’s co-signers include some of the top officials in the chamber, including Senate President Pro Tem David Shafer, R-Duluth.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution will again have Georgia’s largest team covering the Legislature. Get complete daily coverage during the legislative session at myAJC.com/georgialegislature. (www.accessatlanta.com)

It faces a steep climb toward passage, however. Because it proposes a constitutional amendment, it would need two-thirds approval in both the Senate and House before it could be placed before voters on the 2018 ballot. And while it may make it out of the state Senate, where the GOP holds a super-majority, it is unlikely to advance out of the state House, where Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, has backed Gov. Nathan Deal’s plea to move on from last year’s battle.

Deal vetoed a much broader “religious liberty” bill this past spring, saying it would damage the state’s reputation of tolerance and inclusion. Critics, including some of the state’s major business leaders, have derided such legislation as discriminatory toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-gender people, and have warned Georgia would suffer the same fate as Indiana and North Carolina — the loss of jobs, economic development and prestige — after those states passed similar measures.

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GOP lawmakers have tried for years to include protections for religious groups receiving state grants, but such measures by themselves have never passed.

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