Georgia Baptist leaders call ‘religious freedom’ bill a ‘religious manipulation’ bill

A diverse group of Baptist clergy gathered today at the Georgia State Capitol to voice their opposition to HB 29, Rep. Sam Teasley’s so-called “religious freedom” bill.

Onlookers including lesbian state Rep. Simone Bell, state Sen. Nan Orrock, Jeff Graham of Georgia Equality and Robbie Medwed of SOJOURN watched as one religious leader after the other decried the bill, including Rev. Timothy McDonald III of First Iconium Baptist Church.

Rev. Dr. James Lamkin and other Georgia Baptist leaders opposed to HB 29. (photo by Patrick Saunders)
Rev. Dr. James Lamkin and other Georgia Baptist leaders opposed to HB 29. (photo by Patrick Saunders)

“They call it the ‘religious freedom’ bill. They should call it the ‘religious discrimination’ bill. The ‘religious manipulation’ bill,” he said. “Because that is what it’s about to do in the state of Georgia.”

Others questioned the need for such a bill.

“Religious freedom is guaranteed in the First Amendment and in the Georgia Constitution and it is working,” said Rev. Dr. James Lamkin of Northside Drive Baptist Church. “Additional pages of legislation may be offered out of good intentions but I believe that unintended consequences will make the issue more confusing and complicated and litigious.”

Rev. Julie Pennington-Russell of First Baptist Church of Decatur felt that the federal Religious Freedom and Restoration Act passed into law in 1993 is sufficient.

“That’s a good law and it deserved the bipartisan support that it received at this time,” she said. “But these latest efforts in Georgia and in other places have the potential of weakening that very good bill and hijacking that bipartisan bill towards a new redefinition of religious liberty.”

This was the second such event at the Capitol, following a Jan. 13 press conference from members of the same group of over 100 clergy across various denominations in Georgia who signed a letter opposing the bill.

A group from the Georgia Baptist Convention spoke at the Capitol in favor of the bill at a press conference earlier.