Georgia Legislature Update: Religious Liberty Advances

The Georgia Senate created a combined bill out of two different pieces of religious liberty legislation, which can now be advanced for a floor vote whenever the Rules Committee says so. The combined bill is fairly tame: it's no threat to "gay marriage" being the law of the land. However, if you own your own business, you can life your life according to sincerely held religious beliefs.
The combined legislation under HB 757 would enable faith-based organizations and individuals to opt out of serving couples — gay or straight — or follow anti-discrimination requirements if they cite a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction regarding marriage.

The bill would bar state and local governments from taking any “discriminatory action” to punish those beliefs, specifically over convictions that marriage should be between a man and a woman or that sexual relations between two people are properly reserved to such a marriage.

It would protect government grants and contracts, among other things, held by faith-based organizations such as those that receive money to aid in adoption. Those organizations would also not be required to register as a nonprofit, although they would have to state a religious belief or purpose in their governing documents or mission statements.

Additionally, the bill states clergy could not be forced to perform a same-sex wedding ceremony.

The bill would not, however, allow public employees or elected officials such as Georgia probate court employees to refuse to issue same-sex marriage licenses if that offends their faith.
Not sure if it will pass. It's already got some corporate opposition, which normally spells doom even for carefully-crafted compromise bills in the Georgia legislature. Corporate opponents say they believe the law might prevent them from firing people whose religious views are against company policy.

UPDATE: The Senate passed the bill on Friday, having just approved it out of the Rules Committee on Tuesday. No word yet on next steps, or if the governor is willing to sign it if it gets to him.

8 comments:

MikeD said...

Corporate opponents say they believe the law might prevent them from firing people whose religious views are against company policy.

Well, that's only because they're correct. Stupid corporate opponents! Always using facts and reason.

Grim said...

I'm not sure it is true. It would appear to make it hard to fire state employees for having disapproved religious views, but that's already enshrined in Georgia's constitution. On the other hand, it's also ignored by Georgia municipal governments -- the Atlanta Fire Chief was fired for his religious views on homosexuality, not because he brought them to work but because he published a book on his faith that mentioned them in passing.

The only language about corporations in the bill seems to be:

1) the sections aimed at protecting "faith based" corporate entities.

2) the section aimed at suggesting that corporations should 'make reasonable accommodations' for religious persons who would like to be off on Saturday or Sunday for religious purposes. (Muslims might sue over that provision someday, demanding that Friday be added.)

I don't see anything in it that would prevent Coca-Cola from enforcing its nondiscrimination policy.

Jason said...

"Corporate opponents say they believe the law might prevent them from firing people whose religious views are against company policy."

I take it Georgia is not a right-to-work state then? Employers should be free to fire (or hire) anyone for any reason they choose, just as employees are free to quit for any reason or none.

Grim said...

No, Georgia is a right to work state. As far as I know, the corporate charge being raised against this bill is false. You can review the text of the law yourself at the link in my previous comment. If I missed something, let me know.

MikeD said...

(Muslims might sue over that provision someday, demanding that Friday be added.)

That was literally the very example I thought of when I wrote my snark above. If the employer wishes to terminate someone who refuses to work the same work week as everyone else (Monday - Friday) this would bar them from doing so. And yes, they absolutely could fire the employee "for any reason at all", but they open themselves up to a lawsuit if it can be proven that the worker was told they had to work Fridays or else.

Also, imagine a driver who refuses to transport alcohol for religious reasons. If his company is contracted to ship beer to a restaurant or such, they cannot (under this law) compel the employee to do so, and must make "accommodations".

The example of Saturdays or Sundays off seems clear (again, put that in context of someone who works concessions at the Falcon's stadium, do they only have to work Monday Night Football games?), but that is not how the law would be read and interpreted.

Again, I am leery of passing laws willy nilly. This is a general objection, and it is my firm belief that the law of unintended consequences is the lodestar of all legislation. If something CAN bite you in the butt, it WILL.

Grim said...

I'm also generally opposed to laws for no reason. On the other hand, this time there's a reason: we've seen that Federal courts are intent on overturning existing laws on matters touching religious belief, and forcing believers to obey or face at least financial ruin. (Jail, in some cases like Kim Davis, but the Georgia law won't protect people like her.)

So there's a good reason for the law. This one provision only asks that employers make "reasonable accommodations," which is not unreasonable (by definition). I wouldn't actually have a problem with extending it to Friday for Muslims. I take that to be severable from the problem of driving alcohol delivery trucks: first of all, the law doesn't cover 'driving delivery trucks,' it covers a day off for prayer exclusively.

If the objection comes down to "Muslims might want Friday off," fine -- let's add it into the bill before it becomes law. "Muslims can have Friday off instead, provided there is a reasonable accommodation that would make that workable for the business."

MikeD said...

I'm also generally opposed to laws for no reason. On the other hand, this time there's a reason: we've seen that Federal courts are intent on overturning existing laws on matters touching religious belief, and forcing believers to obey or face at least financial ruin. (Jail, in some cases like Kim Davis, but the Georgia law won't protect people like her.)

Nor would a Georgia law be held up in the face of Federal courts' decisions. And no amount of wish casting will make it do so. So passing this law will do what exactly to prevent Federal courts overruling it?

I take that to be severable from the problem of driving alcohol delivery trucks: first of all, the law doesn't cover 'driving delivery trucks,' it covers a day off for prayer exclusively.

Well, while I am certainly glad that you find it to be severable. Will the courts agree with you? Will they not extend that definition to include anything and everything they wish it to include? I'd not bet on it. I take the much more pessimistic view that such laws will do more harm than good, and will ultimately be put to uses we did not forsee at the time they were drafted. And worse, the very things we intend for the law to protect will be the first elements to be discarded in the face of the very courts they were intended to thwart.

No, thank you, I'll have none.

Grim said...

I'm not sure the view you are expressing here makes any sense. The courts will ignore the law and discard the parts we wanted enforced, so we might as well not express our democratic will at all? That's not going to restrain the courts.

The next time some joker comes into a Christian bakery and says, "You will bow down and submit to my will or I'll sue you for everything you've got," at least this law would give the guy some cover. The courts may ignore it, as they have ignored the State Constitution and as they have rewritten the Federal Constitution. Until we start hanging judges from oak trees, however, I don't see how we restrain them better by not expressing disapproval through democratic means.