Sen. McKoon Files Senate “Religious Freedom” Bill

Senator Josh McKoon (R-Columbus) has filed the hotly-anticipated Senate version of a bill supporters claim is necessary to protect religious freedom in our state, SB 129. McKoon’s “Georgia Religious Freedom Restoration Act” is a counterpart to Rep. Sam Teasley ‘s (R-Marietta) “Preventing Government Overreach on Religious Expression Act,” HB 218. The AJC notes that McKoon’s bill counts 28 additional Republicans among its supporters, so it already enjoys majority support in the Georgia Senate.

McKoon often points to the fact that many states have adopted state-level RFRAs after the US Supreme Court ruled that the federal RFRA did not apply to the states as reason to support his bill. However, in some cases this bill’s language goes beyond both the federal RFRA and Teasley’s HB 218. McKoon’s definition of “exercise of religion” specifically includes “the right to act or refuse to act in a manner that is substantially motivated by a sincerely held religious belief.” This language is absent in the federal RFRA, which only covers “exercise of religion, whether or not compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief.” This language, viewed in light of calls to support state-level RFRAs to protect business owners refusing to provide services to LGBT individuals, seems to give credence to concerns about state-level RFRAs being used as a defense of discrimination.

Additionally, McKoon’s bill requires the government to prove that substantially burdening religion is “essential to achieve” a compelling government interest, while the federal RFRA only requires the government to prove the burden is “in furtherance of” a compelling government interest. I’ll leave it to the lawyers (and, of course, the commenters) to determine if this difference is substantial. You can find side-by-side versions of these passages from SB 129, HB 218, and the federal RFRA below the fold.




  1. John Konop says:

    …. “the right to act or refuse to act in a manner that is substantially motivated by a sincerely held religious belief.” ……

    Would this not be the defense used by a gay couple to get married? In conclusion….McKoon used this bill from comments made on the PP to fire up the ant-gay marriage crowd…..At the end it appears his bill helps gay people get married…and opens about racist acts in the name of religion…. WOW…you cannot make this up…LOL…and he is a lawyer….LOL….

    • blakeage80 says:

      Yeah, I just got an email from Erickson telling me to call and email Sen. Cowsert. I’m sure he’ll get plenty of flack for offering that amendment and then tabling the bill when the amendment was thrown out.

      • blakeage80 says:

        I did write him to see what was going on and he says,

        “Thanks for your email concerning the Religious Liberty bill. I’m not sure what information you may have heard but for the record, I am very much in favor of the bill. I voted in favor of a similar bill in Judiciary Committee during the last legislative session and intend to support it again this year. The motion to table the bill on Thursday was not an attempt to kill the legislation, just a way to give the committee time to consider an amendment in order to thoroughly review and perfect it prior to a vote.

        The author of the bill has specifically stated on several occasions that this bill is not intended to discriminate. The amendment that I proposed simply stated that government has a compelling interest in protecting children from abuse and neglect and to prevent unlawful discrimination. This amendment is to prevent misinterpretation of the bill by others who have falsely claimed that it is intended to permit or justify abuse of children or unlawful discrimination.

        Any suggestions that my amendment is intended to kill the legislation, to water down the purpose of the bill, or in any way to divert the bill’s stated purpose are untrue.”

          • blakeage80 says:

            Never fear, Erick Erickson said his language effectively guts the bill and removes protections for churches. This was over twitter so that’s as specific a hope as I can offer. As I hope it passes, this was not encouraging to me!

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