GA “Free” Exercise

By Bryan Stillwagon

On Wednesday, the Georgia legislature passed the “Free Exercise Protection Act” (HB 757), which combines aspects of a proposed Pastor Protection Act and Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Many Atlanta-based companies and industry groups oppose the bill and have urged Governor Nathan Deal to veto it.

Sponsors claim the bill is necessary to protect religious freedom and “faith based organizations.” Opponents, however, argue the First Amendment already provides the necessary protections, and that the bill opens the door to discrimination in social services and employment against LGBT people. Although the bill states it shall not permit discrimination “on any grounds prohibited by federal or state law,” opponents claim the bill could undermine local non-discrimination ordinances that protect LGBT people, will create an “Indiana-style backlash” from corporations and organizations, and will negatively impact the state’s tourism and convention industries. Regardless of the bill’s legal effect if signed by the Governor, the negative media attention many hoped to avoid has already begun.