Earlier this week, the advocacy group Better Georgia, which was one of the loudest voices against Governor Deal’s re-election last year, published ads in the hometown newspapers of Rep. Sam Teasley and Sen. Josh McKoon, the sponsors of the religious liberty bills in their respective chambers. Teeing off on an op-ed in the Macon Telegraph written by Macon Judicial Circuit District Attorney David Cooke, the ads, and an accompanying online campaign, charge that passing H.B. 29 would allow child abusers to claim immunity from prosecution because of their religious beliefs.
McKoon and Teasley each claimed that the bill would not have the effects listed in the editorial, with Teasley taking to the well of the House Tuesday morning to assert that courts would decide that the state had a compelling interest in preventing child abuse should someone ever claim their religion allowed them to ignore child welfare laws. Under both the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act and its Georgia cousin, the state must show that a law interfering with a person’s religious beliefs does so in the least restrictive way possible, and that the state has a compelling interest in enacting the law.
While the Governor hasn’t publicly advocated for the religious freedom bill, he has indicated in comments to reporters that he sympathizes with the bill’s aims. Tuesday evening, Deal spokesman Brian Robinson replied to a tweet by the AJC’s Greg Bluestein with this:
Tuesday was Atlanta Hawks day at the Gold Dome, with appearances in both the House and Senate chambers, along with a visit to the Governor’s office.