Written by Don Byrd
From Kansas to Arizona, state religious freedom legislation has been a troubling news item the last couple of weeks. Now we may need to add Georgia to the list if HB 1023 moves forward as is. The bill is a state version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a federal law barring the government from substantially burdening a person’s religious exercise without a compelling interest as justification.
The federal RFRA was originally adopted with broad support across political lines because it shored up protections for a person’s religious exercise while maintaining key language to safeguard against allowing religion to be a trump card against federal laws and regulations. Unfortunately, several states including Georgia have been considering RFRA legislation or amendments that stray far afield from that carefully balanced federal law.
The Baptist Joint Committee led the diverse coalition that pushed Congress to adopt RFRA in 1993, but is urging Georgia lawmakers to reject HB 1023 as it is currently written. Here is a part of a letter the BJC sent to Georgia Representatives:
HB 1023…differs in significant ways from the version of RFRA that the BJC has supported. These differences raise concerns about striking the right balance when religious liberty interests conflict with other important governmental interests, including the prohibition on government establishment of religion. Notably, HB 1023 just says government cannot burden religion – it doesn’t include the important modifier that the burden must be substantial. . . . Without the substantial burden requirement, nearly any state law or regulation could be subject to exemption challenges. While religious liberty is one of our most precious rights, it is not an automatic trump card.
You can read the entire letter here.