McKoon forges ahead with plans to reintroduce “religious freedom” bill

An undeterred State. Sen. Josh McKoon reiterated plans to reintroduce another “religious freedom” bill in the upcoming legislative session, setting up another showdown with the LGBT community and major corporations on one side and McKoon and other religious conservatives on the other.

“Religious pluralism is one of the foundation stones of this country,” McKoon tells Creative Loafing. “Sending a message that people of every faith are welcome in this state, and don’t have to worry about government trampling their right to free exercise, is something we should want to champion.”

McKoon says his 2014 bill was mischaracterized as an attempt to copycat an Arizona measure that would have given business owners the right to refuse services to gay people. He says the controversial bill, which Gov. Jan Brewer ultimately vetoed, was different from RFRA legislation (Arizona enacted a RFRA law in 1999).

“This discussion about denial of services, the so-called ‘right to discriminate,’ and other things just frankly were not in any way representative of what the legislation would do,” McKoon says. “[My bill] sends the opposite message that Georgia is welcoming and a great place to be.”

Of course, this hasn’t convinced LGBT activists who say the legislation could lead to LGBT discrimination based on religious grounds.

“People’s individual religious views needs to be respected, but that’s why we have the First Amendment in this country,” Georgia Equality executive director Jeff Graham tells CL. “We run into problems when people’s religious views feel the need to trump the law and deny important services to others.”

The bills, called the “Preservation of Religious Freedom Act,” were introduced in both the state House and Senate in the last session, leading to fierce opposition from the state Democratic Party, LGBT advocacy groups and the LGBT community as a whole.

Politicians, community leaders, religious leaders, business owners and private citizens packed a Feb. 25 House subcommittee meeting to show their opposition to the bills, with openly gay Rep. Simone Bell giving a particularly memorable, impassioned speech.

Corporate powerhouses like Delta Air Lines, Intercontinental Hotels Group, Home Depot and Coca-Cola came out against the bills. The bills later died thanks in no small part to the vocal opposition against them.

The fight to head McKoon and others off at the pass before reintroducing the bill started in August, when activists took to Facebook by creating a “Tell Josh McKoon No RFRA in GA” page. Then in late October, the Georgia Chamber of Commerce sounded off by releasing a policy statement declaring strong opposition against any such bills.

“Practices that open the door to discrimination or create the perception that Georgia supports a discriminatory business environment would threaten our competitiveness,” Chamber spokeswoman Joselyn Baker told the AJC. “It would likely discourage some investments, and possibly affect our ability to attract the kind of quality workforce that we need for the future.” | @patricksaunders