Several powerful Republican lawmakers said today that if a so-called “religious freedom” bill were to move forward in the next legislative session, it must have anti-discrimination protections.

The AJC reports that the comments came during a legislative panel discussion at the Georgia Hotel & Lodging Association’s annual meeting featuring Senate Majority Leader Bill Cowsert (R-Athens), Rep. Beth Beskin (R-Atlanta), Rep. Brett Harrell (R-Snellville) and House Minority Whip Carolyn Hugley (D-Columbus).

When asked whether they would support SB129, state Sen. Josh McKoon’s (R-Columbus) “religious freedom” bill that failed in the last legislative session, Cowsert said, “If the House does pass it, I hope it includes that anti-discrimination clause to make sure we are protection people’s religious freedoms but not using that as a shield,” with Beskin agreeing according to the AJC report.

Harrell and Hugley both reportedly said it should not come to the House floor for a vote.

The bill failed in the House Judiciary Committee earlier this year after three Republicans, Beskin included, joined Democrats to pass an amendment inserting an anti-discrimination clause. Rep. Barry Fleming (R-Harlem) gave a stern warning to the committee that if the amendment passed and anti-discrimination language was included in the final version of the bill, he would vote no on it.

“This is the amendment that will gut this bill,” he said emphatically.

The committee voted 9 to 8 to pass the amendment and Fleming made a motion to table it, where it now sits awaiting the start of the next legislative session in January.

In today’s panel, Beskin reportedly raised the million dollar question that the bill’s opponents have repeatedly touted since that controversial committee meeting.

Beskin, said many of her constituents assume the bill is designed to allow discrimination.

“I’m not sure it is, but that’s the presumption,” she said.

But, once the anti-discrimination language was added to the bill, supporters fumed. If the bill isn’t designed to discriminate, “how can there be a problem with making that explicit in the bill?” she said.


State Sen. Josh McKoon (File photo)

State Sen. Josh McKoon (File photo)

Meanwhile, McKoon wrote a guest column in the AJC on Tuesday (behind paywall) blasting the studies presented by the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Metro Atlanta Chamber which showed the economic hit the state would take were the bill to pass.

McKoon claims the ACVB study questions were loaded and that the Metro Atlanta Chamber’s study findings are inaccurate because they compared it to a similar bill that passed in Indiana earlier this year. He claims his bill and the Indiana bill are not the same.

He also brought up another defense of the bill, calling it “an anti-discrimination law”:

It helps to understand what the Georgia RFRA is and is not. Senate Bill 129 discriminates against no one; it is an anti-discrimination law. It has nothing to do with bakers or florists or same-sex weddings. It applies only to lawsuits brought by or against the state or a local government and merely ensures the same safeguards protecting the free exercise of religion that have applied to federal laws since 1993 now extend to state and local laws. Namely, that the government may not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion without a compelling governmental interest, and using the least restrictive means of achieving that interest. It protects people of all faiths, including religious minorities.

This is a similar argument raised by McKoon in the last two sessions, which has routinely led opponents of the bill to ask, as Beskin did today, if it’s not a discriminatory bill then why not add the anti-discrimination clause? Expect more of the same come January. And round and round we go.

2 Responses

  1. Case Hawkes

    Little typo there – Josh McKoon is not a Democrat. You might also want to point out that McKoon himself has linked to videos saying that we need a state RFRA so that shops can refuse to serve gay people and so that counselors can tell gay people that it is their homosexuality that is causing their problems.

    • Case Hawkes

      Apologies, I clicked “Submit” a bit prematurely. This is the video Mr. McKoon linked to from his Facebook page as evidence of the need for a state-level RFRA:

      At 12:50, a case in which a t-shirt shop refused to print shirts for a pride festival is brought up. The shop refused solely on the basis of the pro-gay viewpoint, not due to any offensive or vulgar message or image. If the RFRA would not protect viewpoint discrimination, this case is moot.

      At 13:57, the case of Jennifer Keeton is brought up. Jennifer Keeton was a counseling student at Augusta State University whose lawsuit was tantamount to seeking a court-ordered exemption from the Code of Ethics of the American Counseling Association because of her religiously-motivated views against homosexuality. If the RFRA would not protect anti-gay counselors telling gay students to convert to heterosexuality, this case is moot.

      At 14:53, the case of Commissioned II Love, a Christian ministry on the campus of Savannah State University, is brought up. What is not mentioned is that C2L was being investigated for more than foot-washing, the student-originated complaint also involving directed harassment of those opposed to C2L’s message of ministry including a former member of the organization. If the RFRA would not protect harassment, this case is moot.

      15:05 – a claim that a public high school must allow a religious student organization to be registered as an official club. This is already covered under existing statutory and case law, and does not require an RFRA, so this case is preemptively moot.

      15:13 – A threatened lawsuit against using an official high school function (the football program) to promote religion is referred to as “bully[ing]” the students, regardless of the implied coercive force of a state actor (public school faculty) promoting a religious message via official state functions. If the RFRA would not protect state promotion of religion (as McKoon has claimed, it would only protect individuals), this case is moot.

      That’s just a summary of the portions of the video that are rendered in text. Most of the sources used are from Liberty Institute (now best known for their support of Kim Davis), and notable religious right speakers like Alveda King (who is best known for claiming that both MLK and Rosa Parks were anti-abortion, lying about the words of Margaret Sanger, and claiming a “Dr.” title her honorary degree does not properly confer).

      It is also worth mentioning two other things: first, that the text of Mr. McKoon’s RFRA includes in almost every version an explicit statement that any form of action can be construed as “religious activity”, as opposed to the original reading of the Federal RFRA that only applied to actions taken in the course of the observance of one’s religion; second, that Josh McKoon bans from his Facebook page and Twitter seemingly all people who openly contest his claims, deleting their comments and referring to them as “liberal loons” and liars. This even applied to one person who posted the same analysis of RedKudzu’s video that I have posted here.


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