Georgia House Speaker David Ralston: Not completely sold on ‘religious freedom’ bill

Senate Bill 129, the “religious freedom” bill sponsored by Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus), sailed through the Senate last week and now is headed to the House, where, if passed, it will go to Gov. Nathan Deal’s desk for his signature.

But will it find a roadblock in the House by the name of Rep. David Ralston?

Ralston, a former state Senator and now Speaker of the House, was interviewed on Wednesday on Georgia Public Broadcasting’s legislative show, “Lawmakers.” He said he is not yet convinced the bill is needed.

“My question is, and the questions I’ve asked, is if a constitutional guarantee is not sufficient than what is this bill, this statute, going to do that our constitution doesn’t do?” he told host Bill Nigut.

“I’ve been having that discussion with people on both sides of the issue,” Ralston added.

“I believe the constitution is the paramount legal document of this state and this country. And if we need to codify those guarantees in terms of our freedom of worship, do we also need to do so for freedom of the press,freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and all these other rights we have?” Ralston said.

Ralston, of Blue Ridge in North Georgia, also said he does not feel his religious freedom is being threatened.

“There is no one that believes in our religious freedom than I do, and I say that as a Christian and a Georgian. I feel absolutely protected by the guarantees that our founding fathers put in the constitution of this nation, the founders of Georgia put into the Georgia constitution; it was that important to them, it’s that important today,” he said.

Ralston said he doesn’t believe there is malice behind the bill and he is taking the word of the bill’s supporters that there is no intent to discriminate against LGBT people.

He also did not reveal whether he would support the bill or not and instead said, “We don’t know what will happen in the days ahead.”

State Rep. Sam Teasley, who proposed his House “religious freedom” bill weeks before Sen. Josh McKoon, decided last week to drop his House version to instead spend all his time in passing McKoon’s Senate version in the House.

The last day of the 2015 legislative session is right now expected to be April 2.

Deal, a Republican, has said in the past he supports such bills and is considered a key ally for the bill.

A rally to oppose SB 129 is set for March 17 at Liberty Plaza at the state Capitol. There have already been two rallies sponsored by Southern Baptists in support of the bill at the Capitol.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this bill said if the House passes the bill it would become law. Actually, Gov. Deal would have to sign the bill before it became law.

Video of the interview: