AU originally supported the federal RFRA, which Congress passed in 1993 in response to the 1990 Supreme Court case, Employment Division v. Smith. In that case, the Court announced it would no longer apply the highest level of scrutiny to cases involving the free exercise of religion. AU and other supporters of RFRA believed the bill would simply restore protections for religious minorities by reinstating the higher pre-Smith standard. The federal RFRA was meant to be a shield to safeguard religious freedom, not a sword to be used to harm others. Because people and corporations have been trying to use RFRA in recent years as a way to take away the rights of someone else, however, AU believes RFRA must be fixed.
In recent years, some have attempted to use RFRA in ways its supporters and sponsors never would have imagined. At the time of passage, no one envisioned that RFRA would be used to try to trump non-discrimination, public health, and safety laws. Yet, RFRA has taken on a new life. For example, the Supreme Court, in Hobby Lobby, ruled it could be used to allow for-profit corporations to sidestep the contraception mandate. The Bush Administration used RFRA to justify policies permitting federally-funded employment discrimination. And now, individuals and businesses are trying to use RFRA to circumvent LGBT non-discrimination protections.
The Georgia Senate passed its RFRA bill (SB 129) with a vote of 37 to 15. Before the bill was debated, the Georgia Senate leadership moved for the bill to be “engrossed,” so that no amendments could be entertained. Several Senators stood in opposition to the motion to engross the bill itself, but their efforts failed. These Senators expressed concerns that the bill applied to corporations and that the bill could be used to allow discrimination. They further pointed out that the bill is completely unnecessary, as supporters of the bill could not provide any religious liberty claims that are currently going unaddressed. The bill now moves to the House where its fate is uncertain.
UPDATE 4/3/2015: The RFRA did not pass this session.
SPECIAL NOTE 3/27/2015 on SB 129 GEORGIA RFRA: Another Ga. House judiciary committee meeting has been scheduled for Monday 3/30 to discuss SB 129 (RFRA). The Georgia Voice reports: http://thegavoice.com/mostly-dead-means-still-alive-religious-freedom-bill-gets-another-hearing/. There is also some indication that the bill sponsor may attempt to amend HB 59 to add the original RFRA language, if unable to remove the anti-discrimination amendment from SB 129.
UPDATE 3/26/2015: The bill has stalled in the full Ga. House judiciary committee after anti-discrimination language passes, and bill was tabled: http://thegavoice.com/georgia-religious-freedom-bill-stalls-after-discrimination-amendment-passed/