As a result of the Supreme Court decision to redefine marriage, would you have government coerce uniformity of opinion, speech, and action, by force, or do you believe that individuals along with their organizations should have the freedom to choose how to respond? Put another way, do you believe government has the rightful power to coerce a person to do what his or her religious convictions forbid?
If you believe in the freedom of persons to peacefully follow the convictions of their faith and guide their own organizations according to their own convictions, then here is how FADA works to preserve freedom.
Why is the Georgia FADA needed and what does it do?
The Georgia FADA would prevent state and local governments from taking sides against individuals and organizations based upon their sincerely held religious beliefs regarding lawful marriage and sexual conduct. The Act provides broad protections against adverse government actions directed toward individuals and organizations that act and speak on such beliefs in a peaceful manner and therefore protects Georgia citizens against frivolous lawsuits. The legislation ensures that those holding opposing views on either side of this debate, are not forced to conform in any way, by speech or action, to the viewpoints of those with whom they disagree. This legislation ensures that Georgia government and local governmental entities cannot coerce uniformity by force.
Why needed: Because the Supreme Court redefined marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges, protection is particularly needed for Georgians who hold the traditional religious view of marriage. Even before Obergefell, there was growing intolerance toward religiously minded individuals and organizations who want to live by their conviction that marriage is the union of one man and one woman or that sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage. Since the ruling, there are increasing reports of individuals and organizations holding these mainstream beliefs being targeted for adverse action by state and local governments. Governmental power is essentially coercing people to do what their conscience forbids by requiring them to take part in sanctioning the same-sex lifestyle, whether that means providing goods and services for same-sex events, such as parades, weddings, honeymoons, or other same-sex-related festivities. Some people just want the right to be left alone regarding this issue and should retain the right to refuse to participate whether at work, at school, in their organizations, or simply in the marketplace of ideas. Likewise, the bill would also protect same-sex couples from adverse government actions. They, too, whether as individuals or organizations, would not be forced in any way to participate in traditional marriage festivities or advocate through their talents any traditional beliefs regarding marriage and sexuality with which they disagree. It limits government from intervening in the private choices that individuals and organizations choose to make with regard to marriage.
What it does: A Georgia FADA would protect Georgians from state or local government actions that would retaliate against them because of their religious beliefs regarding marriage in the areas of:
- Tax treatment, including tax-exempt status and charitable contribution deductions;
- Government grants, contracts and subcontracts, cooperative agreements, guarantees, loans, scholarships, licenses, certifications, accreditation, and employment;
- Government benefits and entitlements
Access to government facilities, educational institutions, and charitable fundraising campaigns;
- Accreditation, licensing, and certification.
Whom would the Act protect?
The Georgia FADA would protect a wide array of persons, including individuals and organizations, both for-profits and non-profits, as long as those organizations have some type of mission statement or a statement in their governing documents that affirm the religious purpose or beliefs of the organization.
What states have attempted the type of discrimination this bill is designed to protect against?
There are many examples. Recently, in Idaho, two ministers, a husband and wife, were threatened with criminal prosecution for not officiating at same-sex weddings. In California, a bill was introduced in the California legislature to strip the Boy Scouts of their state tax exemption based on the Scouts’ decision not to have adults who publically identify as homosexual serve as Scout leaders. The bill would also have revoked the tax-exempt status of other youth organizations that hold to an authentic sexual morality, including organizations affiliated with Catholic schools. In New Mexico, the State Supreme Court ruled that a husband and wife who own and operate a photography studio must act against their religious beliefs and take photographs of a same-sex commitment ceremony, if they want to do business in the state. One of the judges wrote that violating one’s religious beliefs was “the price of citizenship.”
What are any comparisons and contrasts between the Georgia FADA and the Georgia RFRA?
The basic framework and foundation to protect religious liberty is the Georgia RFRA because it provides broad, but not guaranteed, protection for all Georgians’ religious liberty in a wide range of contexts. The Georgia RFRA simply establishes a judicial balancing test, the same one used by the U.S. Supreme Court and federal judges in religious liberty claim cases. Particularly, the balancing test requires that courts use the “strict scrutiny” standard of review to ensure that government cannot substantially burden the free exercise of religion without compelling justification of the highest order and that government must use the least restrictive means to accomplish its constitutional objective. The Georgia RFRA merely establishes the same rules for religious-liberty claims in Georgia as exist for similar claims in federal court. Whether those religious liberty claims win in a Georgia court would depend on how the court balanced the competing claims under the guidance of the Georgia RFRA. In the absence of RFRA, bureaucracies almost always have the advantage. RFRA instead puts the burden on government to justify actions that infringe on religious liberty. However, RFRA is not a guarantee that those making a religious claim will win their case. RFRA merely provides firm statutory language upon which a robust defense against government action can be mounted.
In comparison, the Georgia FADA also protects religious liberty, but only for a particular subset of religious beliefs and actions regarding the sacred bonds of marriage, which may not or may not be covered under RFRA. The Georgia FADA is specifically limited to protecting citizens from governmental retaliation regarding both the traditional view on marriage and the additional view now ruled as lawful in Obergefell v. Hodges. If a court finds that FADA’s protections apply, there is no balancing test between the citizen’s claim and the government’s interest. Instead, under FADA, the citizen wins, whereas under RFRA, the citizen may or may not win. In other words, because RFRA works across an extensive range of situations in which religious liberty claims may arise, the balancing test allows the courts to evaluate each specific context to determine whether or not citizens’ specific religious liberty claims should trump a particular governmental interest. But in the context of protecting citizens who hold a lawful view of marriage and who wish to speak or act in a consistent fashion with regard to those beliefs, FADA signifies that the General Assembly itself has already done the necessary balancing of interests between a citizen’s right and that the citizen’s religious beliefs and peaceful actions regarding lawful marriage should always be protected.