Legislative Update – March 1, 2016

I included a blog post below to help clarify the differences in the current version of the Pastor Protection Act/First Amendment Defense Act and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

This post is a summary after Crossover Day (Day 30 of 40), which is when bills must cross over to the other legislative body (House or Senate) to stay “alive” for the remaining days of the session.

Jindal_ReligiousFreedom_v1SB 129 Georgia Religious Freedom Restoration Act introduced by Sen. Josh McKoon has passed the Senate. In 2015 it was tabled in the House Judiciary with an anti-discrimination amendment. The Judiciary Chairman indicated he would not even consider until after Crossover Day.

HB 757 Pastor Protection Act and the language of the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA) were combined in the Senate Rules Committee and passed the full Senate, which is a good development and should provide protection to both pastors and all Christians in Georgia. Action: contact the Speaker of the House, David Ralston, and ask him to “agree” to the bill. Contact your GA House member and ask him/her to support this version of the Pastor Protection Act.

HB 837 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, introduced by Rep. Ed Setzler, adopts the federal RFRA language, to remove any concerns that SB 129 does not mirror the federal language. Click here for a short synopsis.  No movement, but there is talk it may be added to the Pastor Protection Act (instead of the FADA language, as it is now). Contact your GA House Member and ask for support of Rep. Setzler’s RFRA.

To be clear, the Pastor Protection Act with either the First Amendment Defense Act OR the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is acceptable (see chart). The Pastor Protection Act alone only protects a very small group of Georgia citizens, and is not acceptable. Read blog post below for a fuller explanation.

No one is for state-sanctioned discrimination, and these religious freedom bills do NOT allow that. In fact, every Georgian would be protected regardless of their religious belief or view of marriage. Ask yourself: do you think a Christian school in Georgia (or other Christian ministry) should be stripped of its tax-exempt status if they do not hire faculty who are in same-sex relationships? That is being demanded by a University of Georgia professor in this article. Do you think a Christian student be expected to attend a gay pride parade and enroll in “sensitivity training” or face dismissal from her college program? Jennifer Keaton explains in this video that is what happened to her at Augusta State University. The free exercise of religion is a God-given and constitutionally protected right of all Americans. The Georgia General Assembly should not give in to corporate extortion, but should act now to ensure that people of faith are not discriminated against.

Religious Liberty Protection Chart JPEG

Some other legislation:
Two Resolutions were introduced to enable a vote in November to change the Georgia Constitution to allow for gambling in Georgia. One on pari-mutual wagering on horse-racing and the other on regional casinos. Neither made it through Crossover Day (legislative day 30), which likely means they are dead for the year.

HB 716 would prohibit a person who is licensed to provide professional counseling to counsel a person under 18 years of age with same-sex attraction to resist that inclination. Did not “cross over” by Crossover Day.

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How does Georgia’s First Amendment Defense Act differ from the Religious Freedom Restoration Act?

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.

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Legislative Update — Feb. 16, 2016

There are a number of religious freedom bills now in the Georgia General Assembly. The Religious Freedom Restoration (RFRA) has been introduced in three separate bills, all of which are fine, but can lead to some confusion. To help clarify, here is the status of four:

SB 129 Georgia Religious Freedom Restoration Act introduced by Sen. Josh McKoon has passed the Senate. It was tabled in the House Judiciary with an anti-discrimination amendment. No movement.

HB 837 Religious Freedom Restoration Act introduced by Rep. Ed Setzler is in the House Judiciary Committee waiting to come up in a hearing. It adopts the federal RFRA language, to remove any concerns that SB 129 does not mirror the federal language. No movement. Contact your GA House Member and ask for support of this bill.

SB 284 First Amendment Defense Action (FADA) and HB 757 Pastor Protection Act were combined in the Senate Rules Committee on Feb. 16, 2016, which is a good development and should provide protection to both pastors and all Christians in Georgia. Senators should be asked to support this combined bill.

Some other legislation:
SR 135 enables a change to the Georgia Constitution to allow for pari-mutual gambling on horse-racing. It has passed out of the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee. This is a bad bill which will open the door for casinos.

HB 716 would prohibit a person who is licensed to provide professional counseling to counsel a person under 18 years of age with same-sex attraction to resist that inclination. No movement.

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Legislative Update — Jan. 29, 2016

There are a number of religious freedom bills now in the Georgia General Assembly. The Religious Freedom Restoration (RFRA) has been introduced in three separate bills, all of which are fine, but can lead to some confusion. To help clarify, here is the status of four:

SB 129 Georgia Religious Freedom Restoration Act introduced by Sen. Josh McKoon has passed the Senate. It was tabled in the House Judiciary with an anti-discrimination amendment.

HB 837 Religious Freedom Restoration Act introduced by Rep. Ed Setzler is in the House Judiciary Committee waiting to come up in a hearing. It adopts the federal RFRA language, to remove any concerns that SB 129 does not mirror the federal language.

SB 284 First Amendment Defense Action (FADA) introduced by Sen. Greg Kirk is in the Senate Judiciary Committee. It protects non-profits who hold to traditional marriage.

HB 757 Pastor Protection Act introduced by Rep. Kevin Tanner is in the House Judiciary Committee. It purports to protect ministers and churches from being forced to perform marriages contrary to their religious beliefs.

Some other legislation:
SR 135 enables a change to the Georgia Constitution to allow for pari-mutual gambling on horse-racing. It has passed out of the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee.

HB 716 would prohibit a person who is licensed to provide professional counseling to counsel a person under 18 years of age with same-sex attraction to resist that inclination.

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Thanksgiving Proclamation

Issued by President George Washington, at the request of Congress, on October 3, 1789

By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation. Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and—Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:”

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favor, able interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other trangressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally, to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Go. Washington

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Houston rejects controversial LGBT anti-bias policy

World Magazine (Read entire article)

By

Houston voters soundly defeated an ordinance that would have made gender identity and sexual orientation protected classes, a measure opponents said would trample privacy and religious liberty rights.

The measure gained national attention after outgoing Houston Mayor Annise Parker went toe-to-toe with the city’s diverse religious community over the ordinance. Opponents said it would allow men to use women’s restroom and locker room facilities and prevent businesses from setting policies that best met their customers’ needs.

Parker’s fight with the pastors started with a rejected petition drive and went all the way to the Texas Supreme Court. The state’s top justices ordered the city to let voters decide the ordinance’s fate.

Click here to read entire article (redirects to World Magazine).

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High school coach put on leave after refusing to stop on-field prayers

World Magazine (Read entire article)

By

The high school football coach who refused to stop praying on the field after Bremerton, Wash., school district officials ordered him to, has been placed on paid leave until his contract runs out in December.

Joe Kennedy, represented by Texas-based Liberty Institute, is considering his legal options.

“We’re prepared to take the necessary legal actions to defend Coach Kennedy’s religious freedom,” Liberty Institute senior counsel Mike Berry told The Seattle Times. “His religious expression is not something he should hide or be ashamed of.”

Click here to read entire article.

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AN AMERICA WITHOUT CHURCHES

by Dominic Bouck, O.P.
Published 6.25.15 at First Things — original article here

As the Supreme Court prepares to announce its decision on same-sex marriage, religious people are wondering: will we lose our tax-exempt status for our religious institutions? Justice Samuel Alito raised this question during the oral arguments, citing the 1983 Supreme Court case that ruled Bob Jones University could lose its tax-exempt status if it continued to oppose interracial dating and marriage.

The solicitor general, arguing the case for same-sex marriage, responded that it would “depend on how states work out the balance between their civil rights laws.” This sort of reply should do nothing to calm the nerves of those who object to same-sex marriage. When the conscientious objectors become a minority of the voting population, will our rights be protected?

The issue of the tax-exempt status of religious organizations is already a hot topic in some quarters. Those in favor of taxing religious organizations point out the huge financial impact that it would have, anywhere from tens to hundreds of billions of dollars per year.

The confiscation of church property is no new thing. There was the “Decree Confiscating Church Property,” of the French Revolution, Napoleon’s drive through Europe closing monasteries, Emperor Joseph II’s suppression and confiscation of “contemplative” institutions and many others. It seems the state is content to uphold the churches when they provide a civil service, but once they conflict with something that the state holds dear, or have large amounts of land and property, the temptation to remove the foreign element of religious resistance grows.

The folly of it all is that almost all churches in America have no source of income outside of the parishioner himself, who is already paying taxes. Most churches and their members couldn’t sustain the property taxes for more than a few months. More importantly though, removing the tax-exempt status of churches is simply adding an additional tax to churchgoers. If they can’t foot the bill, the local parish, church, or synagogue will simply have to close.

This is not fear-mongering. The local church-building—with its community services, soup-kitchen, funeral and wedding space—will become the next hot real estate item, especially those old downtown churches that can’t possibly handle the huge tax increase. Real estate developers would love to get their hands on the property to replace it with another high-rise.

I don’t think losing tax-exempt status will destroy the faith of religious people. We will do what all religious groups have done throughout the centuries when the state has decided their presence is inconvenient. House churches, religious instruction in the evenings (since the religious schools will close), and a certain social separation from the rest of the culture will make a comeback. But the faith will persevere.

The next time you go to your local place of worship, say a prayer that we can have the freedom to worship, learn, and serve in public places.

Dominic Bouck, O.P., is a Dominican brother of the Province of St. Joseph and a summer intern at First Things.

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Texas lawmakers approve Pastor Protection Bill

From World Magazine

By BONNIE PRITCHETT
Posted May 22, 2015

On Thursday afternoon, the Texas House passed the Pastor Protection Bill with a 141-2 vote, a vindication for religious liberty advocates who argued the issue of conscience transcended political lines and deserved public debate.

Pastors from across the state who lobbied legislators throughout the session for a total of 10 religious liberty bills applauded yesterday’s vote but called it only a small step in a larger battle against religious liberties. The bill, which protects pastors from being sued for refusing to officiate same-sex weddings, is scheduled for a third and final reading Friday. Once passed by the House, Gov. Greg Abbott said he would sign it, putting the measure into immediate effect.

Click here for full story.

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Legislative Update – April 7, 2015

The Georgia General Assembly 2015 term ended on April 2. They will not convene again until January 2016 for the second term of the two-year legislative cycle.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (SB 129) passed the Senate, and got as far as the House Judiciary Committee before being tabled because of the addition of an “anti-discrimination” amendment. This important legislation is still alive for 2016, but has suffered negative publicity because of deliberate misinformation from activists and the media. The anti-discrimination language defeats the purpose of the bill:

  • Faith-based ministries risk losing the religious exemption within employment law. Consider this, if a religious freedom law contains language that says you cannot discriminate based on religious belief, then we lose the ability to “discriminate” based on religion when it comes to who we hire.
  • For the same reason, and probably more likely, we also risk losing the morality clause that almost all Christian schools require. That is, prohibiting employees from living in adultery, homosexuality, etc.
  • If you are familiar with the situation with the Houston pastors, much of that stems from the anti-discrimination language in the Texas RFRA law. Houston passed their accommodation law requiring businesses to let men use women’s restrooms, Christian ministries were not exempt. The way they tried to deal with it was through a petition requiring the city to allow the voters to decide whether to adopt the new law, but the city rejected the petition, and so a group sued (not the pastors). As an intimidation tactic, the city subpoenaed the pastors’ sermons, text messages, emails, and other private communications to their members. Municipalities, counties, etc. can start adopting these accommodation laws, and without a strong RFRA, faith-based ministries are not exempt.

Senate Resolution 135 (SR 135) would open the door to allow gambling on horse racing in the state. It would require a change to the Georgia Constitution, so it must pass through the General Assembly, and also requires a vote of the citizens of Georgia. It failed to pass out of the Senate by Crossover Day, so it is dead for 2015. Gerald Harris, Editor at The Christian Index, has written an excellent article outlining the problems with this effort by the horse racing industry, which you can read here.

HB 1 allows Georgia citizens to posses a small amount of cannabis oil for the treatment of a limited amount of medical ailments. It has passed the House and now must move through the Senate. It is not expected to pass in its current form. The desire to help those with severe medical ailments is noble, but the complications of initiating the legalization of marijuana is troubling, especially considering that it will still be illegal according to federal law. It passed the House and Senate and is awaiting the governor’s signature.

Education Savings Account (HB 243 & SB 92). Either bill would allow public school funds to be applied to individualized education on a per child basis. It was debated in the Ways & Means Committee. It is still alive for 2016.

Senate Resolution 388 (SR 388) would initiate a change to the Georgia Constitution which would “prevent discrimination in the public funding of social services by allowing religious or faith based organizations to receive public aid.” This removes the so-called “Blaine Amendment” from the Georgia Constitution, and allows public resources to go to faith-based organizations (e.g., children’s home, addiction programs, schools, etc.). It must not only pass both the House & Senate, but because it is a change to the Georgia Constitution, it is also required to be on a ballot for a vote. It is dead for 2015.

HB 555 is helpful pro-life legislation which will streamline reporting requirements for abortions in Georgia. Press Release by Georgia Life Alliance: “..according to data obtained from the Georgia Department of Public Health, only 107,000 of 208,000 abortions performed between 2006-2012 were conducted with the doctor certifying they gave the patient the required informed consent.” It failed to make it out of the House by Crossover Day.

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