On Wednesday, March 2nd, Georgia Unites Against Discrimination delivered 75,000 letters to the office of Governor Nathan Deal encouraging him to reject discrimination in the name of ‘religious liberty.’ Georgia Equality executive director Jeff Graham was joined by Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin, and Lambda Legal’s Southern Regional Director Simone Bell, as well as many other advocates.
After a short press conference, advocates carried the 30 boxes of signed letters to the Governor into his office and delivered them on behalf of every Georgia who had signed one.
The day after the 75,000 letters were delivered, Gov. Nathan Deal released his strongest statement yet against the so-called ‘religious-liberty’ bills, saying he would reject any bill legalizing discrimination. Read the coverage in the Atlanta Journal Constitution here.
Update of First Amendment Defense Act
Georgia Unites Against Discrimination is currently focusing its attention on stopping House Bill 757. This bill, once known as the Pastor Protection Act, was by far the most innocuous of the almost 10 religious refusal bills introduced in Georgia this session.
The original version of HB 757 dealt very specifically with reaffirming clergy members’ rights to refuse to perform marriage ceremonies that are in conflict with their sincerely held religious beliefs, and to allow churches to refuse to rent church owned spaces for similar purposes. It was, by many accounts, a compromise bill, supported by the Speaker of the House as a way to bridge the gap on this debate that has plagued the state capitol for 3 years now.
Happening concurrently to HB 757 was the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA), or SB 284, in the state senate. Where HB 757 was the least egregious of the religious refusal bills, SB 284 was one of the worst—broad sweeping religious exemptions for any organization that claims sincerely held religious beliefs in something as simple as a mission statement, even those receiving public funding for providing services to homeless people, domestic violence survivors, etc. Both bills found themselves assigned to the Senate Rules Committee, and in the worst kind of political sausage making, the committee voted to amend FADA onto HB 757 and passed the combined bill to the full Senate.
After 3 hours of debate, and not allowing any amendments to the new version of HB 757, the Senate voted to pass the bill along party lines. The bill now heads back to the House, where it will either be agreed to, or disagreed to. If the House agrees to the Senate’s amendment, the bill will head to the Governor’s desk. If the House insists on its original version, the Senate will have one final time to agree to the house version. If the chambers are unable to agree, a conference committee will be appointed with members of both houses, and any resulting compromise will have to be approved by both bodies.