Scholar: ‘Religious freedom’ bill means more sex shops in Georgia

In the ongoing fight over the so-called “religious freedom” bill being considered in the Georgia legislature, you often hear the same arguments being made by the same people. Former Georgia Attorney General Mike Bowers shook things up when he entered the discussion talking about how the bill could allow the Ku Klux Klan to bypass the law against them wearing their masks.

Count Georgia State University constitutional scholar L. Lynn Hogue as another voice sure to turn heads. Hogue, citing “the opportunities for mischief or for some kind of unintended consequence to state regulatory authority” that passage of SB 129 could bring, told WABE (90.1 FM) in an interview Tuesday that sex shop owners could use Sen. Josh McKoon’s (R-Columbus) bill to get around zoning issues.

“If the language of the Senate bill that just passed one house were to be enacted into law, let’s say you had a private business that this was its business, that it was a sex toy business and it’s denied rezoning,” Hogue told WABE reporter Denis O’Hayer. “What’s to keep it from [saying] the practice of sex and sexuality is part of a religious experience and that what they’re doing is facilitating individuals who believe this and achieve this exercise of their religion? The result of the enactment of this law would be to give those businesses a leg up in their legal fight to battle the city’s rezoning laws.”

Hogue says the sex shop owners could use this “leg up” because there’s no explicit definition in the bill of what “religion” or “an exercise of religion” is.

“That kind of open-ended differentiation and special privileging of religious claim is what is really the basis for fearing that this law will get us into a lot of unintended consequences that I don’t think are getting adequately discussed and aired in the discussion at the legislature,” Hogue said.

Hogue doesn’t reference an Atlanta zoning fight in particular but the most publicized one recently was the proposed rezoning of the Cheshire Bridge Road corridor in 2013 by gay Atlanta City Councilman Alex Wan. While the city’s zoning committee approved the legislation, it failed when brought before the Atlanta City Council.

McKoon’s bill passed in the Senate last week and will now be considered before the House. And of course, McKoon is not pleased with Hogue’s analysis. | @patricksaunders