Georgia and the so-called ‘Preservation of Religious Freedom Act’

To: Representative Tom Kirby (GA District 114) and Senator Bill Cowsert (GA District 46):

As my elected representatives, I am asking that you vote against the ‘Preservation of Religious Freedom Act’ currently under review by the House and Senate Judiciary Committees (HB 1023 and SB 377) if it comes to a general vote. These bills are similar to a bill recently voted on in Arizona. I believe these bills are in conflict with the Constitutions of the Unites States and the State of Georgia, which make them indefensible in a court of law.

Both HB 1023 and SB 377 reference sections of the US and Georgia constitution which forbid the government from religious discrimination or limiting personal belief. You both ran campaigns that promoted your belief in Christianity, so you benefit from these protections as much as every other citizen of this nation. As legislators, you should be aware of these constitutional protections and how they apply to current law.

I personally believe this legislation is being promoted by parties who believe their individual or professional behavior is not subject to equal treatment under the law, based on narrow interpretation of specific religious texts. Certain interests may be using these bills to show opposition to the legalization of same-sex marriage, or show opposition to efforts for promoting LGBT equality. As a representative in a system based on rule of law, you should not allow views on narrow agendas to alter the basic framework of our government … even if opposing changes to marriage law match your personal religious beliefs.

If the ‘Preservation of Religious Freedom Act’ becomes state law, it will be used by many parties to defend actions in opposition to current state and federal law. Some will use words from the Bible to defend their actions … or the Koran … The Book of Mormon … Buddhavacana … Dianetics … Mabinogion … whatever text or interpretation of text can be found to justify their inability to follow the law.

In these cases, a judge will have to decide if the religious text justifies individual or commercial actions for the case to move forward. The judicial branch of the State of Georgia will have to argue for or against an individual’s personal beliefs in defense of this law … a government official will be in a position to rule on the validity of an individual’s faith. This type of endorsement is in direct opposition to the religious protections already present in the US and Georgia State Constitution.

Despite a lack of legal education, I expect this legislation will not pass review by a higher court. Why do members of my elected government feel this is a worthwhile endeavor? I do not seek representation from the state on religious matters, but I do seek a government that equally protects those under its governance.

You both ran for office as Republicans on a platform for limited government. Passing poorly worded legislation that opens our state up to expensive litigation does not support that platform. The government has no right to prevent people from worship … but it has a duty to treat people as equals no matter what faith they choose. Please act in a manner that defends the idea of less interference in personal faith, without endorsing personal beliefs as a method of bypassing equal treatment under the law.

You may note I have expressed no preference for a specific religion or spiritual faith. That is by design. My personal faith has no bearing in this matter. I expect my government to treat people as equals under the eyes of the law, not the eyes of a specific deity. My family left Scotland in 1721 and fought in wars defending the country that put “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” front and center in a document severing ties from kings under royal crowns. People do not require endorsement from government to have faith, and they do not deserve endorsement from government to abuse that faith.

The preservation of religious freedom is already part of my country’s foundation. My ability to worship as I choose, or my choice not to worship, requires no additional protection … but my state’s ability to treat people as equals under the law appears to need some help. This bill will not change anyone’s religious views … but if passed, it will change the way the people of Georgia view the whims of their elected officials.

Thank you for your time and consideration. If this bill leaves committee, your vote will be considered when I exercise my rights in the next primary or general election.

Sincerely … Brian Richardson (Loganville, GA)

For reference:

http://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/en-US/Display/20132014/HB/1023

http://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/en-US/Display/20132014/SB/377

http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution_transcript.html

http://georgiainfo.galileo.usg.edu/topics/government/related_article/constitutions/georgia-constitution-of-1983-as-ratified-without-subsequent-amendments

http://www.azfamily.com/news/Gay-rights-groups-oppose-Ariz-religious-protection-bill-246409341.html

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2 comments

  1. Wendy says:

    I like Dan Savage’s take on this – businesses who choose to take advantage of state laws like this should be required to display signage saying exactly who they plan to discriminate against – this would allow the rest of us to choose not to patronize them. It’s a stopgap measure (until the laws are overturned on a national level), but it would be an improvement.

    And I’m really looking forward to seeing the first time a Jewish/Muslim/Hindu business owner discriminates against a mainstream Christian customer, and what the outcry over that will be . . .

  2. Jen Montes says:

    This reminds me of that time Louisiana passed a law to allow government-paid vouchers to religious schools and then were shocked and dismayed when an Islamic school applied for funds (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/13/louisiana_n_1593995.html).

    How short-sighted can they be?

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