Mike Bowers: Only purpose of proposed Georgia ‘religious freedom’ bills is ‘unequivocally an excuse to discriminate’ against LGBT people, others

Former Georgia attorney general Michael Bowers, and a one-time longtime LGBT foe, was hired by Georgia Equality to analyze the proposed “religious freedom” bills in the state legislature and his opinion is clear: the bills do nothing more than authorize discrimination and deserve a “swift death” in the General Assembly.

In the memo released today in conjunction with a press conference, Bowers writes to Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, that the proposed bills by state Rep. Sam Teasley (R-Marietta) and state Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus)  will do nothing more than open the doors to discrimination and deserve a “swift death” in the General Assembly.

Bowers writes:

“… [A]s an attorney with over 40 years of law practice, a great deal of which has been involved with state government, I find the proposed RFRA [Religious Freedom Restoration Act] troubling. First, I believe if enacted into law this legislation will be an excuse to practice invidious discrimination. Second, if enacted, the proposed RFRA will permit everyone to become a law unto themselves in terms of deciding what laws they will or will not obey, based on whatever religious tenet they may profess or create at any given time. The potential intended and unintended consequences are alarming. Third, if law, the proposed RFRA is full of uncertainties making enforcement and administration difficult.”


“The obvious unstated purpose of the proposed RFRA is to authorize discrimination against disfavored groups. By not limiting its application to core religious practices or religions receiving tax exempt status under IRS code 501(c)(3), the bill enacts an excuse to discriminate in the broadest and most arbitrary sense.”

Bower adds:

“The timing of Georgia’s legislation—and similar legislation in other states—coincides with the rapid legalization of gay marriage across the country, the United States Supreme Court’s 2014 decision striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, and the 2013 Supreme Court ruling that religious freedom of expression excused compliance with a mandatory coverage for contraception in employee health insurance programs. A challenge to Georgia’s constitutional prohibition on same sex marriage is proceeding in federal court. The proposed RFRA is nothing more than an effort to legalize discrimination against disfavored groups, requiring only the discriminating party’s assertion of a burden on his or her (or … a corporation’s) purported religious belief.”

Bowers also writes that the bills, if passed, “would open the door for people to attempt to discriminate against others in violation of federal, state, and local law.”

“The proposed RFRA would eviscerate existing state non-discrimination laws, state and local fair housing laws, and the University of Georgia’s non-discrimination policies. Obvious targets for discrimination based on a supposed burden on religious exercise are members of the LGBT community and religious minorities. But more insidiously, this legislation will allow state and local government employees to refuse services to citizens. Again, an obvious example is the refusal to issue marriage licenses sought by same-gender couples, but would also provide defense to a Muslim city clerk who refused to issue a marriage license to a heterosexual couple between a Muslim and a person of a different religion.”

Also, Bowers writes, “Any Georgia citizen or corporation could refuse services to, deny employment to—or even terminate employment of—another person by simply asserting a burden on the exercise of his or her religion.”

Bowers even writes that the proposed RFRA bills could bring back the hooded Ku Klux Klan.

“For decades, Georgia’s Anti-Mask Act has prohibited wearing masks in public. This law enacted to prohibit the Ku Klux Klan from wearing hoods in public, and by extension, to discourage participation in its activities. While this statute contains exceptions for holidays, sporting events, theatrical performances, and gas masks, it does not contain a religious exercise exception—because many Klansman used religion to justify their participation in the Klan. … Anonymous participation in hate groups would undoubtedly rise if Georgia enacts the proposed RFRA.”

In conclusion, Bowers writes:

“This legislation is not about gay marriage, or contraception, or even so-called ‘religious freedom. It is more important than all of these, because it ultimately involves the rule of law. Regardless of whether one agrees with a particular policy, or if it offends one’s religious sensibilities, the proposed RFRA is bad for all Georgians of good faith, or for that matter of any faith whatsoever. It is not just bad public policy; it is ill-conceived, unnecessary, mean-spirited, and deserving of a swift death in the General Assembly.”

And from today’s press conference, organized by Georgia Equality and Georgia Unites, are some key tweets: