Georgia legislature gears up for new ‘religious freedom’ fight

The state senator behind a failed anti-LGBTQ adoption bill went after the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and “global business elites,” calling their opposition to anti-LGBTQ “religious freedom” bills a “charade.”

State Sen. William Ligon (top photo), a Republican from Brunswick, was the lead sponsor on a bill that would have allowed faith-based agencies receiving public funds to ban LGBTQ people from adopting children or becoming foster parents. The bill passed in the Senate earlier this year but failed to get a vote in the House and died before the session ended.

Ligon signaled his intentions to take up a new fight for “religious freedom” legislation in the upcoming legislative session starting in January, going after the Georgia Chamber of Commerce in a statement to The Brunswick News

“After several years of enduring attacks of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and global business elites against religious liberty, I hope everyone sees through their charade,” Ligon said in a statement late Friday afternoon. “Last year, (Chamber CEO) Chris Clark stated that ‘the Chamber is working hard to quash any religious freedom bills that might come before the Georgia legislature in 2017,’ just as it had done the previous three years, and which it continued to do in 2018.

“The Georgia Chamber seeks to deceive Georgians that economic liberty and religious liberty are incompatible. However, the history of our nation proves otherwise. If this had not been the case, our nation would never have become the economic wonder of the world.”

Supporters of such legislation are emboldened by Brian Kemp’s win in the gubernatorial election, since he has long vowed to sign such a bill into law. Kemp reiterated his stance in a post-election interview with the AJC on Nov. 19, saying he would support a bill that mirrors federal law. But LGBTQ activists said the bill he supports is still discriminatory and sets a dangerous precedent.

Supporters of the legislation signaled their intentions to hold Kemp to his promise. State Sen. Josh McKoon said the legislation is “finally going to happen” now that Kemp will be governor. 

McKoon, long the face of Georgia’s “religious freedom” fight, will end his tenure in the legislature in January after a failed run for secretary of state. But if you thought you’d heard the last of him on the issue, think again. 

McKoon joined on as executive director of the Georgia chapter of the Faith & Freedom Coalition — an anti-LGBTQ group that opposes marriage equality. 

That group joined several other religious conservative organizations in a press release following Amazon’s announcement that it was choosing Long Island City, N.Y, and Crystal City, Va. for its second headquarters, plus an additional hub in Nashville, Tenn., and not Atlanta. The groups said Georgia business opposition to “religious freedom” legislation is a "bogus argument" since both Virginia and Tennessee have versions of “religious freedom” legislation on the books.

However, Virginia and Tennessee passed their laws years before the U.S. Supreme Court made marriage equality the law of the land in 2015. LGBTQ groups have said “religious freedom” bills were often passed to counter that ruling.

We reached out to the Georgia Chamber of Commerce to ask about their current stance on “religious freedom” legislation and their response to Ligon’s comments and will update this story if they respond.