Josh McKoon: Kemp win guarantees ‘religious freedom’ bill

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The face of Georgia’s “religious freedom” bill fight says the anti-LGBTQ legislation is “finally going to happen” now that Brian Kemp is going to be governor. But a Republican strategist warns of major economic consequences for the state if it does.

State Sen. Josh McKoon (top photo) has been a vocal proponent of “religious freedom” legislation for the last five years under the Gold Dome. He told the AJC that, in the wake of Kemp’s win, religious conservatives are counting on the governor-elect to come through on his promise to sign “religious freedom” legislation into law.

“My assessment of the last eight years of the Georgia General Assembly is that the folks in power, the people at the controls of state government, did make deals with the Democratic party rather than try to make any sort of accommodation to the conservatives within the House caucus and the Senate caucus,” said state Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, one of the foremost champions of “religious freedom” legislation in the Capitol.

“So yes, I think there’s been a tremendous pent-up demand on this issue,” he said. “I think people are like, okay, we’ve elected a guy now — he’s not a party-switcher. He’s been a Republican his whole life. Charlie Brown is finally going to get to kick the football. This is finally going to happen.”

Kemp said in August he would veto any “religious freedom” bill that discriminates, and he promised to support a bill that mirrors a version that's been federal law for 25 years. But LGBTQ activists said this version would still discriminate.

McKoon lost a bid for secretary of state in the Republican primary in May and will leave office in January. He has since 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.

This development demonstrates yet again that major corporations locate in areas that are best for their bottom line. They consider business climate, taxes, transportation, workforce, and numerous other factors – but they don’t make multi-billion-dollar decisions based on whether religious liberty is protected by a particular statute. We trust that Amazon’s announcement will finally put to rest the bogus argument that passing a RFRA will drive away business. We also urge the Georgia legislature to quickly enact legislation that tracks the time-tested language of the federal RFRA, to protect Georgians’ fundamental right to free exercise of religion.

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.

McKoon signed onto the press release, as did Tanya Ditty, the anti-LGBTQ leader of Concerned Women for America.

Actors start #BoycottGeorgia hashtag


Where one stands on “religious freedom” legislation doesn’t always come down to political party. Gov. Nathan Deal (second photo, right) vetoed a controversial anti-LGBTQ bill in 2016.

Brian Robinson (second photo, left), a Republican and former top aide to Deal, tangled with McKoon on the issue several months later. During a debate on GPB’s “Political Rewind,” Robinson said the bill was “about extending the middle finger to the Supreme Court and the LGBT community.”

On Friday, Robinson told WABE’s “Political Breakfast” that Kemp was only publicly silent about “religious freedom” legislation during the general election.

The discussion starts at the 20:45 mark:

I know that even in the general election, while Kemp was very smartly not talking about that on the campaign trail, that he was still saying in meetings with donors that he wanted to get that issue off of the table and sign it.

Robinson said it would be “a major pressure point” for Kemp to navigate in his first year in office.

We, of course, have a burgeoning movie industry here that would be critical here if that happened. I’m not saying that to be for or against that legislation. I’m just saying those are the realities, and companies like Marvel and Disney that film at Pinewood [Studios] will leave the state. And we’ve got a Super Bowl coming — is that what we want people talking about for the week that we are the center of the world’s attention?

McKoon told the New Yorker in October that the entertainment industry is bluffing when it threatens to pull out of Georgia should a “religious freedom” bill pass.

“Hollywood and the entertainment industry seemingly don’t have a problem shopping their wares to countries with real human-rights problems,” he told me, mentioning Hollywood actors taking jobs in China and participating in promotional events and “star tours” in Singapore. “There’s no evidence that Hollywood will walk away from the richest government subsidy in the country for their industry.” He added, “It’s a bluff—and, anyway, I don’t think we should determine how free our people are going to be or what civil rights may be enjoyed by Georgians because of what an outside industry may or may not do.””

Meanwhile, some actors have vowed not work in Georgia following Kemp’s win. Bradley Whitford (“The West Wing,” “Get Out”) called Kemp “a corrupt, homophobic, unapologetic disenfranchiser of African American voters.”

Whitford, Alyssa Milano, Ron Pearlman and Steven Pasquale began using a #BoycottGeorgia hashtag on Twitter.


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