Written by Don Byrd
After bruising legislative battles the last couples of sessions, including a veto from Governor Nathan Deal last year, many Georgia legislators and others sound ready to move on rather than return to the issue in 2017. HB 757 ultimately included language similar to the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), but it also contained provisions related to the rights of faith-based organizations, houses of worship, and clergy.
Last week, the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce stated its desire to avoid any repeat of the controversy. Now, according to an Atlanta Journal Constitution report, House speaker David Ralston has expressed a similar sentiment. He explained his thinking behind putting the matter aside:
“I think it is a federal issue, so I’m very content to let them deal with it. I don’t hear much discussion about it. There was a lot of concern in the period of time right after the veto, but I think as people have kind of stepped back and taken a look at it, I think they realize that it’s a little more complex and has dimensions that you might not expect when you flash up the words ‘religious freedom’ or ‘religious liberty.’ Because, you know, we all believe in that….
“So I think it would be healthy for the Congress to have a debate, and let’s see what they do….”
It may be interesting to see if, and how, Congress attempts to step into this role. RFRA is a federal law that was written to apply to state governments, but the Supreme Court struck down that provision of the law, leaving states to have to pass their own legislation to add that level of religious freedom protection. While several states have passed laws modeled on RFRA, Georgia remains one of many that have not.
What kind of federal legislation could Ralston have in mind?