Josh McKoon defends ‘religious freedom’ amendment

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Sen. Josh McKoon, the Republican lawmaker who has pushed for anti-LGBT “religious freedom” bills for several years, defended his political maneuvering late Tuesday that tried to attach his legislation to another bill. 

McKoon, along with Sen. Marty Harbin, pushed to add a “religious freedom” clause to an unrelated bill late Tuesday, the second-to-last day of the legislative session. The jockeying was to add the amendment to House Bill 257. But a vote on the bill was delayed when the Senate adjourned for the day, setting up a showdown Thursday on the last day of the session.

McKoon told Project Q Atlanta late Tuesday that this iteration of the “religious freedom” legislation only applied to local governments and argued that it would not gut any existing LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinances in place in Atlanta and dozens of other cities across the state. LGBT advocates have said “religious freedom” bills would do just that and provide a gateway to discrimination.

“There is absolutely nothing about religious freedom restoration act language that would invalidate or weaken Atlanta’s nondiscrimination ordinance,” McKoon said.

“The court is very clear: anytime government identifies unlawful discrimination or wrongful discrimination as something that needs to be dealt with, as a matter of policy, that is always going to trump a free exercise claim,” he explained.

Last August, a federal court dismissed the case of Aimee Australia Stephens, a transgender woman in Detroit who sued her funeral home employer after getting fired when she announced her sex reassignment surgery.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission brought a suit against R.G. &. G.R. Harris Funeral Homes on her behalf, citing federal nondiscrimination laws, while the funeral home countered that RFRA protects them. The funeral home won.

McKoon was confident that had the Senate voted Tuesday on his amendment, it would have passed.

“I believe had there been a recorded roll call vote on Sen. Harbin’s amendment it would have been adopted. I think then the underlying bill would have been adopted, and then it would have gone back to the House,” he said.

McKoon has long been a champion of transparency in the legislature who has decried 11th hour amendments to other bills. But he defended how the “religious freedom” amendment was added to another bill.

“While I don’t like the rules of this particular game, I don’t have a choice,” McKoon said.

“Unless and until it changes it essentially puts you at a disadvantage to say, ‘I’m not going to add amendment to bills,’” he added.

McKoon also criticized fellow Republicans for what he perceives as their lack of support for core issues to religious conservatives, including “religious freedom” measures.

“There are definitely Republicans who are itching to abandon religious conservatives. They think that religious conservatives are a net negative for the party, that essentially they need to get with the times or get with the program,” he said.

But Sen. Nan Orrock, an Atlanta Democrat, argued on Tuesday during Senate debate over the amendment that lawmakers aren’t exactly getting flooded with calls to prioritize “religious freedom” bills. 

“It’s very upsetting to me that this discussion has sort of taken this turn to where the moment we start talking about this it’s becomes a very polarizing subject,” McKoon said. 

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