Senate Bill 129, Georgia’s religious liberty legislation, was tabled March 26 after the House Judiciary Committee added an anti-discrimination amendment proposed by Rep. Mike Jacobs, R-Brookhaven.
The Judiciary Committee’s vote to table S.B. 129 likely killed the legislation for 2015, although proponents had until the General Assembly’s adjournment April 2 (after the AJT went to press) to revive the bill.
The Anti-Defamation League and rabbis representing all denominations of Judaism spoke out against S.B. 129, warning that it would turn faith into a license to discriminate. Proponents noted that the language is almost identical to the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.
Two other Republicans on the committee, Beth Beskin of Buckhead and Jay Powell of Camilla, joined Jacobs and six Democrats in passing the amendment 9-8 after warnings from Republican proponents that they couldn’t support the amended bill.
The Jacobs amendment added one clause to the bill’s definition of the compelling governmental interest required to limit the free exercise of religion: “and protecting persons against discrimination on any ground prohibited by federal, state or local law.”
Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, who introduced the bill, said the “very elastic terms” in that clause would create enough exceptions to overwhelm his proposal. Noting that opponents have called his bill a solution in search of a problem, McKoon said: “I would say this amendment is a solution in search of a problem.”
Jacobs, who is Jewish, said he accepts bill proponents’ claims that they do not intend S.B. 129 to aid discrimination. But in response to overwhelming opposition to the bill from his district, he wanted the legislation to be explicit on the issue. “This is what my constituents want me to do. This is what I want to do as their legislator, and this is what I want to do.”