Yesterday, the Georgia State Senate passed a state Religious Freedom Restoration Act bill by a 37-15 vote, sending the measure to the House. The bill had been tabled in committee, but was reportedly revived when a democratic lawmaker opposed to the measure took a restroom break. The vote makes Georgia the 4th state to advance a RFRA bill through one house of the legislature this year.
Altogether, 10 states are considering new RFRA legislation. Three others are considering amendments to RFRA laws. Today’s New York Times profiles this legislative push across the country, adding this helpful, moderating voice to the debate:
Supporters of the bills say such fears are overblown, noting that in many states that already have Religious Freedom Restoration Act laws, judges have taken care to balance the religious liberty claims of aggrieved believers against existing nondiscrimination laws, or the general principle that discrimination is harmful to society.
“R.F.R.A. doesn’t guarantee the result in any case,” said Thomas Berg, a professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis. Instead, he said, it merely establishes the standard that must be met, and gives an individual the right to require that the government prove a “compelling interest.”
That is all true – RFRA does not guarantee the result. It only provides the standard. Still, as the BJC’s Brent Walker explained in his latest column, it matters which standard the law contains. Notably, the state RFRA proposals are not uniform in their approach or scope. While some state proposals closely mirror the federal RFRA law, others include language that strays unwisely from that model.
Check out my State RFRA Tracker to monitor the legislative developments, as well as the key language at the heart of the bill in each state. Find out which states are making progress with RFRA bills, and what is happening in your state.