Facts on Georgia's RFRA Bill
I am writing in response to some of the inaccuracies in the opinion article by Tom Crawford published in the September 17, issue of the White County News concerning the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. First, let me state that I am a supporter of the RFRA bill that overwhelmingly passed the Georgia Senate during the 2015 General Assembly session and was stalled in the Georgia House by committee and therefore not allowed to go before the full House for a vote. You may or may not support this legislation; however you need to have the facts in making your decision.
The United States Congress passed RFRA with a unanimous vote in the House and a 97 to 3 vote in the Senate in 1993. It was signed into law by President Bill Clinton. REFA was a response to the Supreme Court decision in Oregon v. Smith that changed the “strict scrutiny” standards when examining religious liberty claims. The restoration of “strict scrutiny” as the standard for examining religious liberty claims ensures that the government cannot hinder the free exercise of religion with compelling justification. The proposed Georgia RFRA bills follow the pattern of the federal RFRA almost word for word.
In 1997 the Supreme Court ruled that the federal RFRA only applied to federal law and that it did not apply to state law. At least 19 states have since passed a version of RFRA and 11 others states have RFRA type protection for their citizens where judges have affirmed RFRA. Our neighboring states, (Florida, Tennessee, South Carolina and Alabama) all have RFRAs.
RFRA is supported by leaders of Georgia’s largest faith communities: Catholic, Evangelical, Baptist, Mormon, and Orthodox Jewish.
What about the facts? While Mr. Crawford uses the Kim Davis, the county clerk in Kentucky, to launch his article he failed to mention that the judge disallowed a RFRA defense in the case even though Kentucky has RFRA. Thus, RFRA was not an issue. However, the case brings an interesting issue; some states have laws to provide procedures to accommodate religious convictions while enforcing the law.
RFRA is not a response to the same sex marriage ruling by the Supreme Court. RFRA has been proposed in the past two sessions of the Georgia General Assembly, both preceeding the Supreme Court’s ruling on same sex marriage. The federal RFRA bill was passed 22 years ago, long before the marriage debate had begun.
The business fears and the increasing number of law suits against businesses carry no merit. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provision for due process under the law for mistreatment by employers based on religion already exist. Thus, the avenue for employment issues regarding discrimination in the work place based on religion has been in existence for 51 years.
Charee Stanley is the flight attendant that converted to Islam and asserted her faith would not allow her to serve alcohol. When the airline suspended her she filed a law suit under Title VII not RFRA. Thus, RFRA was not the issue.
The fear of businesses leaving or not coming to Georgia if we pass a RFRA bill has not been true for other states. Texas has RFRA and leads the nation in attracting businesses. When Volvo was considering relocating in Georgia it did not seem that RFRA entered into their decision to go to South Carolina a RFRA state instead of coming to Georgia.
The fear that businesses “can’t make a profit if the only serve customers who are Protestant heterosexuals” is laughable. RFRA would have nothing to do with who businesses are allowed to serve. The only rationale for this argument would be if they are forecasting a boycott by groups that might oppose Religious Liberty.
Religious Freedom is a basic American right protected by the 1st Amendment, why do we need RFRA? Religious liberty is a fundament principle enshrined in the Bill of Rights by our founding fathers, however RFRA establishes a the strong standard of “strict scrutiny” to insure that government cannot substantially burden the free exercise of religion without a compelling reason and that the government must use the least restrictive means possible when accomplishing their objective.
An example of RFRA is the courts in the Supreme Court case involving The Affordable Care Act and Hobby Lobby, a family owned business. The Supreme Court decided that requiring family-owned corporations to pay for insurance coverage for contraception under the Affordable Care Act violated a federal law (RFRA) protecting religious freedom.
I encourage you to read Senate Bill 129 as proposed by Senator Josh McKoon and overwhelmingly passed by the Georgia Senate in the 2015 session: http://www.legis.ga.gov/Legislation/en-US/display/20152016/SB/129