The ACLU of Georgia came out against a “religious freedom” bill introduced in the state Senate, criticizing the measure for giving people “a license to discriminate” against others.
The statement from Andrea Young (photo), executive director of the ACLU of Georgia, came Wednesday, a day after Sen. Marty Harbin and 18 other Republican lawmakers proposed Senate Bill 233.
“The freedom of religion is a fundamental right guaranteed by our state and federal constitution. But that freedom does not give any of us the right to harm others. Growing up during Jim Crow, I lived in a world where I was refused service in hotels and shops because of my color. People claimed a religious purpose then, saying that God meant for the races to be separate. It was wrong then, and it is wrong now, to use religious belief to harm and discriminate against others.
“That is why the ACLU of Georgia will continue to oppose legislation that would give people a license to discriminate against their fellow Georgians. No one should be turned away from a business, refused government services, or evicted from their home, just because of who they are. We will also continue to advocate for comprehensive civil rights legislation to protect the rights of all Georgians to live and work free from discrimination.”
Harbin's “religious freedom” bill would add language from the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act to state law. As Gov. Nathan Deal said he's “extremely cautious” about the legislation, debate over it erupted Wednesday morning in the state Senate.
Harbin said federal prisoners serving their sentences in Georgia enjoy more religious freedom than citizens of the state. Sen. Elena Parent said the bill is part of an effort to “weaponize” “religious freedom” to oppose same-sex marriage.
Young said lawmakers should instead focus on Senate Bill 119, which is a comprehensive civil rights bill that protects LGBT people and others from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations. Sen. Lester Jackson, a Democrat, introduced the measure on Feb. 9.
“This comprehensive civil rights legislation is a powerful testament to the diverse coalition of Georgians who are standing together to oppose discrimination in all of its forms. All Georgians deserve equal protection under the law — no matter who they are, what they look like, how they pray, or who they love. We applaud Senator Lester Jackson and his co-sponsors for their leadership and urge the General Assembly to pass this much-needed civil rights legislation without delay.”