Georgia religious rights bill may need a ‘miracle’ to pass this year

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

proposal to strengthen legal protections for religious Georgians stalled Monday when senators delayed a planned public hearing.

The prospects for the measure’s passage dimmed because Thursday is a deadline when bills typically need to win approval in at least one legislative chamber to become law. It’s still possible for legislation to be revived after the deadline.

"I'm going to find a way if I can and try to make it happen," said state Sen. Marty Harbin, a Republican from Tyrone who introduced Senate Bill 221. "I believe in miracles, sir, and that's what I'm going to try to do" to get the bill passed.

Harbin acknowledged that it might take until next year for the bill to move through the legislative process, but he said he hoped the bill can at least pass the state Senate this year.

Supporters of the legislation say it would add a layer of protection for people of faith.

Opponents say it could be used to discriminate against gay Georgians and harm the state’s business reputation. SB 221 would limit the government’s ability to pass laws that conflict with religious beliefs.

“The bill creates a license to discriminate, and that’s not what our U.S. Constitution is about,” said Sean Young, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia.

The bill had been scheduled for a public hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday, but the committee ran out of time to discuss the measure before the full Senate met.

Republican Gov. Brian Kemp has said he would sign a religious rights bill only if it's a "mirror image" of a federal religious freedom law passed in 1993.

SB 221 includes the same language as the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, but it also adds a provision that would allow plaintiffs who win lawsuits against the government to recover their legal costs in religious cases.