Religious Freedom bill passes through Ga. Senate

Bailey Adcock and George Anderson

“The First Amendment Defense Act” was passed by the Georgia Senate recently, which prevents the government from discriminating against any person or organization based on their views about marriage.

This bill prohibits any federal agency from denying tax exemptions for organizations that have religious or moral convictions against same-sex marriage. This also gives businesses and corporations the right to deny service to homosexual customers.

Sen. Mike Lee, a republican of Utah, and Rep. Raul Labrador, a republican of Idaho, introduced the federal version of the bill on June 17,2015.

The Georgia Senate passed the state version of the bill on Friday Feb.19, 2016 in a 38-14 vote, after it passed the House in a 161-0 vote earlier in February. However, the Senate amended the bill by adding the Pastor Protection Act, which would allow religious leaders to decline to perform same-sex marriages, according to CNN.

This bill has been passed on the grounds that it is in defense of the First Amendment, hence, “The First Amendment Defense Act.” The First Amendment gives all citizens freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition. The argument in favor of the bill is that it is a religious freedom to refuse service to customers or clients based on sexual identity or orientation.

“Our bill ensures that the federal government does not penalize Americans for following religious belief or moral convictions on traditional marriage,” Labrador said in a press release.

Naturally, the introduction of this bill has raised concern among members of the LGBT community and its supporters.

“With this bill being introduced, I kind of feel like it’s pretty much opening the doorway to people to start being even more malicious and vicious towards the LGBT community,” Latane Brackett, senior international trade major and president of the Gay-Straight Alliance at Georgia Southern, said.

The LGBT community, however, is not the only one in protest. Many major film companies are also against the bill. Many economists and business leaders are concerned that the bill being passed could have negative consequences on Georgia’s economy.

Business owners and political leaders alike are concerned that the effect of the bill may be similar to the backlash that was felt in Indiana after a similar bill was passed.

Bracket addressed the economic side of the situation as well as voicing his opinion that there may be a deeper, possibly business and money-driven side to the issue.

Alvaro Smith, junior anthropology major, understands how religious organizations could benefit from the bill, but feels businesses shouldn’t be allowed to deny service.

“If it is a religious organization it makes perfect sense to tell them no you can’t [be served here] because of my religion because gay marriage does reflect in some religious scriptures… but for a regular business you can not say ‘no we are not going to accept you because of your sexual orientation or sexual beliefs that you practice in the comfort of your home with your partner’,” Smith said.

The House of Representatives will either vote in favor of the bill and send it to Gov. Nathan Deal to sign into law or send it back to the Senate where it will be passed over to a committee made up of members of both houses.

Photo courtesy of Brandon Warnock.