State Senate Committee Tables Religious Freedom Bill
State Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus) is the author of SB 129 and was also the author of last year’s SB 377 that did not pass. Its counterpart in the House, HB 218, is authored by State Rep. Sam Teasley (R-Marietta). The Senate bill currently offers land use as an exercise of religion, a provision which differs from the House version.
State Sen. Bill Cowsert (R-Athens) sought to add an amendment to SB 129.
His proposed amendment would come after “under compelling government interest” to now read “includes but is not limited to protecting the welfare of a child from abuse, or neglect as provided for by the laws of this state and protecting individuals against discrimination.”
If adopted, this amendment–by changing the definition of “compelling government interest” to specifically include protecting individuals from discrimination–seeks to preempt the courts from finding that such protection is not compelling enough of an interest to be allowed to burden someone’s religious freedoms.
McKoon ruled the amendment out of order because it was not presented to him 24 hours before the Senate Judiciary meeting.
“It is unreasonable to expect anyone to prepare an amendment any quicker than it was done and get it to you to consider,” Sen. Cowsert told Sen. McKoon.
The bill had its first read in the State Senate on Wednesday, February 18, 2015. Sen. Cowsert said he received notice at 4pm on that day that it would be on the Senate Judiciary Committee agenda the next day at 4pm, a mere 24 hours or so before the meeting.
State Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) wanted to know the definition of person in the bill and if it includes only natural persons, or also corporations.
“Last year in SB 377, we did define person to include a closely held corporation… and we want to stick closely to the federal language. In the Hobby Lobby decision, the Supreme Court has held that person means a flesh and blood human being, but also a closely held corporation,” Sen. McKoon replied.
“Are there Georgia-based cases that you think make this bill necessary,?” Sen. Fort inquired.
Several people in the audience yelled out Kevin Cochran as the answer.
However, Sen. McKoon – ignoring the obvious – told about a case at Savannah State College where a Christian organization was kicked off campus for holding a foot washing ceremony.
“It took legal action to get the issue resolved… adoption of this law will make sure that this sort of thing does not happen in the future and will reduce litigation,” Sen. McKoon said.
Perhaps it was a curious coincidence, then, that former Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran held a press conference at the Rotunda to announced his federal civil rights lawsuit against Mayor Kasim Reed on the same day Sen. McKoon’s bill was being read in the Senate.
Reed fired Cochran after he published a book about his religious beliefs and developing a “culture of God” at the Fire Department, allegedly without consulting the ethics office as is required.
Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) attorneys said, at the press conference, the reason Cochran was terminated was because of his Christian faith and beliefs.
There is no question that fundamentalist Christians have a right to their beliefs. At issue is whether they they have a right to special laws that allows them to discriminate against others who do not share their beliefs.
Part of Cochran’s beliefs, as well as that of other fundamentalist Christians, are that homosexuals are unclean. Cochran categorites them with beastiality, pederasty, and other forms of sexual perversion, as reported previously in Atlanta Progressive News.
Cochran’s attorneys, Jonathan Crumly and Garland Hunt, are part of a small army of private lawyers allied with the faith-based ADF, an anti-gay and anti-pro choice group.
ADF is one of a number of well-financed extremist Christian groups who seek to litigate, lobby, and influence laws to support their fundamentalist theologies.
Kellie Fiedorak, another ADF lawyer, compared Rosa Parks’s civil disobedience to Baronelle Stutzman, a Washington florist who refused to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding.
Needless to say, the cultural war is raging across the nation and religious freedom bills are part of that war.
Speakers were given a strict two minute time frame to present their evidence, either for or against the bill.
Those not in favor argued the bill would discriminate against minorities, especially homosexuals; and that it was not needed. It would allow businesses to impose religious beliefs on others in the marketplace and refuse services to people they find violate their moral code.
Those in favor argued that they want the same protection at the state level that they have at the federal level with RFRA. They feel they are being discriminated against because of their understanding of the Bible. They do not understand why the bill is conversational.
With SB 129, “We have a solution in search of a problem, ” State Sen. Curt Thompson (D-Tucker) observed.
Sponsors of SB 129 are McKoon (R-Columbus); and State Sens. William Ligon, Jr. (R-Brunswick); Mike Crane (R-Newnan); Charlie Bethel (R-Dalton); Marty Harbin (R-Tyrone); and Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega).