Senate President Pro Tem David Shafer, R-Duluth. JASON GETZ / JGETZ@AJC.COM
Photo: Jason Getz / AJC
Photo: Jason Getz / AJC

Senate leader signs on to religious liberty bill in Georgia

Senate President Pro Tem David Shafer, R-Duluth, has signed onto a religious freedom measure opposed by Gov. Nathan Deal in Georgia.

Shafer quietly added his name to Senate Bill 233 after it was filed last week by the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Marty Harbin, R-Tyrone. The bill says that the language in the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act would also apply in Georgia, requiring the government to prove a “compelling governmental interest” before it interferes with a person’s exercise of religion.

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It stops far short of a wide-ranging religious liberty bill that Deal vetoed last year but is still not expected to win approval before Friday’s “Crossover Day” deadline — in no small part to Deal’s statement that he had “no desire or appetite to entertain” it. To have a clear path of becoming law, the bill must win passage from either chamber in the Legislature by Friday. While parliamentary maneuvering can keep a bill alive past Crossover Day, making it from one side of the Capitol to the other by the end of that day makes final passage much more likely.

When Harbin filed SB 233, 19 members of the Senate’s Republican majority caucus signed it including Senate Majority Whip Steve Gooch, R- Dahlonega. But the addition of Shafer lends it at least symbolic heft, given that he is the top member of the chamber.

Supporters over the past several years in Georgia have sought legislation they say would protect religious viewpoints and prevent discrimination against faith-based groups, particularly those opposed to same-sex marriage. Opponents fear such efforts, if successful, could enable discrimination by freeing business owners to cite religious reasons in denying service to particular customers.

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