Four Women Jailed in Georgia over Religious Freedom Bill Protest (UPDATE 2)
Photograph by Steve Eberhardt.
(APN) ATLANTA — Four women were arrested when they visited the office of State Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus) to talk with him and deliver a message about SB 129, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) bill, that he introduced.
McKoon refused to meet with the women.
They planned to stay until he agreed to talk with them. However, someone apparently chose to call the Capitol police and have the women arrested.
Lorraine Fontana, Megan Harrison, Jessica Reznicek, and Emma Stitt were taken to Rice Street Jail in Fulton County and booked on March 18, 2015.
Fontana and Harrison bonded out the next day, but Stitt and Reznicek refused bond.
They plan to stay in jail until the RFRA bill is defeated or for the duration of their sentence.
[It is not immediately clear who, if anybody, called the police. Frank Cordaro, Reznicek’s partner, tells Atlanta Progressive News that another State Senator came in and told the women that if they did not leave, they would be arrested.]
Stitt and Reznicek were transferred on March 23 to the Union City-South Fulton Municipal Regional Jail. They are charged with preventing or disrupting the General Assembly sessions.
Stitt works at the Open Door Ministry, a residential community that serves homeless people and has a prison ministry for those incarcerated.
Jessica Reznicek and her partner, Frank Cordaro, are visiting the Open Door Community for a month. They are from the Des Moines Catholic Worker Community, in Iowa.
Mary Catherine Johnson works at the Open Door Ministry and recently visited Stitt and Reznicek in jail.
“They are in good spirits, but look tired. They do not have clocks, but believe they are being fed breakfast around two or three in the morning. They report the food is horrible, mostly baloney and hot dogs,” Johnson said.
“The jail wakes them up every few hours for a head count, so they never get six or seven hours of uninterrupted sleep,” she said.
“Although they are in jail for protesting the RFRA bill, they are also there in solidarity with poor women who can’t afford to bond out, which is part of Open Door’s Prison Ministry,” she said.
“Emma said hearing the stories of the other women in jail is very powerful for her. Their incarceration is often related to being in an abusive relationship. One woman told about being taken away from her three week old, breastfed baby, and put in jail,” she said.
“Jessica is from Iowa but wants to be in solidarity with the women in Georgia because of the negative impact RFRA will have on women, particular reproductive rights,” she said.
APN talked with Lorraine Fontana about why she went to jail over the RFRA bill.
“The RFRA laws passed all over the county are a disgrace. They are an attempt to allow right-wing, conservative Christians a chance to not give certain service to people who they don’t agree with,” Lorraine Fontana, with Moral Monday, told APN.
“The original reason for RFRA is because of the success of the LGBT movement in getting marriage equality rights and civil right legislation protections. It was to target LGBT folks who they did not want to service, in any way, or let them use the same facilities. That was the impetus nationwide for these bills,” Fontana said.
Now a lot of social movements are coming together because of RFRA. Reproductive rights, abortion, birth control, child welfare and women’s rights are all in danger from literal interpretations of a few biblical passages.
This is a slippery slope to a theocracy. Will it be homosexuals today and adulterous hetrosexuals or unwed mothers tomorrow? No one knows all the unintended consequences if this type of religious moralizing is legalized.
How long Stitt and Reznicek will remain in jail or when they will have an arraignment is unknown at this time. It will probably happen sooner than most, because of the public interest and support for this case. The courts are backed up for months, sometimes even a year, with so many poor people languishing in jails for minor offenses waiting for a trial.
There will be a solidarity vigil of people of faith saying no to RFRA on Monday, March 30, 2015, at 7:00 p.m., at 5500 Watson Street in Union City, Georgia.
UPDATE 1 and CLARIFICATION: APN originally reported that McKoon was in his office at the time, relying on a blog post on the American Friends Service Committee blog. Since the publication of this article, which was shared by readers on Facebook, Sen. McKoon responded to one reader, Beth Cope, that he was not in his office at the time. The AFSC blog post has been edited to remove the information, and so, APN has removed the statement from this article as well.
UPDATE 2 and CORRECTION: APN originally reported that McKoon called the police; however, it is not immediately clear who called the police. As now noted in the updated story, Frank Cordaro, Reznicek’s partner, said that another State Senator came in the office and told them that if they did not leave, they would be arrested.
Did Senator McKoon refuse to be interviewed for this article?
We did not specifically attempt to reach him for this story; however, we have tried unsuccessfully several times in the past.
Thank you for letting me know and for the work you do!
If Josh McKoon was not in his office at the time they wished to meet him….how, exactly did McKoon know to “call the Capitol Police” to have them removed?
Bill, we have updated and corrected the article to remove that statement, and add new language that it is not immediately clear who called the police; and that according to Frank Cordaro, Reznicek’s partner, another State Senator came in and told the four women that if they did not leave, they would be arrested.
Thank you for this excellent article!
Frank Cordaro, Jessica Reznicek partner, witnessed what happened on March 18 in Sen. McKoon reception area when four women were arrested. He is also with the Des Moines Catholic Workers Community in Iowa. The following account was told to this reporter outside the South Fulton Municipal Regional Jail where Jessica is still incarcerated.
“The secretary told us that he [Sen. McKoon] was in a meeting in the room next door and could not come out to see us,” Cordaro told APN.
“We were there only about five minutes when another senator came in and told us we were impeding their work and they needed to clear us out and we were to wait in the hall. We said no problem, we will move anywhere in the reception room that is out of the way. He said get out or you are going to get arrested. Two police officers seemed to be there already and just arrested them,” Cordaro said.
“There was no sense of the ability to speak to your elected official. It was an automatic response, we are not going to deal with you, we are just going to arrest you. It was strange. Never seen anyone arrested that fast in an elected official’s office. They usually try to talk with their constituents. It was about five minutes and the four women were cuffed. No warning, no nothing. You would think a elected official would at least try to talk with people. We didn’t even have a chance to reason with him,” Cordaro said.