Georgia Republicans defend religious liberty, but Democrats warn of discrimination.

Atlanta — Georgia Republicans are voting to preserve religious freedom from state and local governments, while Democrats say the long-disputed proposal allows religious discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals. The Senate passed Senate Bill 180 33-19 on Thursday, sending it to the House for consideration.

It revives a Georgia debate from eight years ago, when lawmakers enacted a different version of the proposal. Business leaders lobbied Republican Gov. Nathan Deal to veto it in 2016 because they worried it would hinder their capacity to attract tourists and employees.

The bill is being pushed in an election year when all lawmakers are running for reelection and Republican leaders are more conservative. The bill follows the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which requires the government to prove a compelling purpose to force someone to violate their religious convictions and employ the least restrictive means.

Acworth Republican Sen. Ed Setzler said Georgia needs its own religious protection bill since the federal legislation doesn't cover state and local government attacks on religion. Supporters say a municipal government may refuse religious literature distribution or church zoning without respecting religious freedom.

“It simply makes the government pause and think, do we have a compelling interest in this, and if so, are we accommodating people's religious faith in every way possible,” Setzler said. Opponents worry that private groups would use the bill to deny birth control coverage to their employees and that it could weaken local discrimination laws.

We are one of only three states in the nation that don’t have an anti-discrimination law,” said Stone Mountain Democrat Sen. Kim Jackson. “We don’t have protections if someone abuses this law.” Jackson, a lesbian, also worries about being denied service at her adopted son's daycare, a hotel room, or towing if she breaks down on the road. Jackson said she and others may win a lawsuit later, but they suffer in the meanwhile.

Legislation like this invites. Georgians are invited to rethink their discrimination. Jackson called it a permission slip. “If anyone you love is seen as different, this legislation puts them at risk.”

The measure might hurt the economy by driving out LGBTQ+ people and their employers, say opponents. After decades of marketing Georgia as a corporate destination, the Metro Atlanta Chamber and Georgia Chamber of Commerce opposed the plan, saying it “would undermine the state’s strong reputation we have built together.

He stated, “Never has an RFRA statute been used to back up invidious discrimination,” adding that the law would be applied case-by-case without prejudgments. Christian conservatives welcomed the bill's advancement after years of inaction.

“This development is a profound statement that Georgia values and safeguards the right of its citizens to practice their faith without fear of government overreach,” said Frontline Policy president Cole Muzio, a conservative group linked to Republican Gov. Brian Kemp.

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