Will the Georgia State Legislature revisit religious freedom bills? Hobby Lobby ruling just may have opened a new door …

By Gary S. Cox

“Hobby Lobby stones gay employee to death,” read the recent headline on The Daily Currant, a self-described “global satirical newspaper.” Now that we virtueonlinehave your attention, of course, the headline isn’t true though it zinged around the web on social media as if it were a true story. Nonetheless, the point of the satire was that recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Sebelius vs. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., best characterizes the “slippery slope” we are now on when it comes to practicing one’s faith in the workplace under the Federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The satire was emphasizing the fact that a “corporation” has the right to practice religious freedom. If this argument is taken to the extreme, then, could the company invoke Leviticus 20:13 which states, “If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood is on their own heads.” By claiming to be a Christian corporation that abides by Christian principles, how far can a privately held corporation take their religious beliefs? Could they refuse to hire or give service to gay people? Where is the bottom of the slope? No one really knows yet.

With the Federal government losing the Hobby Lobby challenge to mandated birth control coverage, Georgia’s extreme right political pundits are hailing the victory as an opportunity to have the General Assembly pass the previously failed Preservation of Religious Freedom Act. The prevailing argument is the ruling gives “political cover” to Senator Josh McKoon (R-Columbus, and State Representative Sam Teasley (R-Marietta) to re-introduce the legislation in 2015. Senator McKoon, in light of the ruling, is actively and openly courting support for his legislation. In a recent right-leaning editorial column in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, McKoon was quoted as saying, “The protection of people of faith, it’s a foundational reason that America exists … Yes, religious freedom is a priority in Georgia.” What does he mean by these comments? In reading Senate Bill 377 we know his priorities, according to the Credo-Mobilize website, “ … would authorize any business to refuse services and goods based on religious convictions. This would open a Pandora’s box of possible discrimination and anti-civil behavior targeting gays and lesbians, women, racial minorities and certain religious groups.” Senator McKoon’s editorial comments make it sound like re-introduction of his failed Senate Bill 377 is a foregone conclusion. Would it fail again post Hobby Lobby? The level of uncertainty is too great that we must call attention to the issue now, before the legislative session starts in 2015!

As a reminder, the Federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) does not apply to state laws. This was determined in the City of Boerne vs. Flores – RFRA was struck down in 1997 as it applies to states, but left intact Congress’s authority to make it apply to the Federal government. In reaction to the 1997 ruling, a new tool, such as the McKoon legislative initiative, emerged to impose “religious protections” at the state level. Versions of RFRA have been passed in Alabama, Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Texas. Thus-far-to-date, none of these states have legislation as broad as McKoon’s bill which was defeated in 2014 because of the backlash from Georgia’s corporate Fortune 500 giants.

Even though the U.S. Senate passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act to extent protections to the LBGT community in the workplace, Speaker Boehner announced the legislation was “dead on arrival” in the U.S. House of Representatives. Under current law members of the LBGT community may legally be discriminated against in the private sector workplace with no legal avenue available to them to redress of their grievances of possible workplace discrimination. In Georgia at the state level, the LBBT community does not enjoy a status as a “protected class.” The fallout of Sebelius vs. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., here in Georgia may very well be the re-introduction and ultimate passage of House Bill 1023 and Senate Bill 377. Those oft cited examples of signs in restaurant windows of “No Gays Allowed” could very well become true in less progressive areas of our great state.

Those of us in the progressive community will need to be ever watchful in the upcoming 2015 legislative session and call upon our friends in the business community and on civic leaders to speak out for equality and justice for all our citizens regardless of race, creed, ethnicity, gender, religious affiliation or sexual orientation.

 

Comments

  1. Burroughston Broch says:

    Your post is incomplete, so let’s set the record straight on the Hobby Lobby case so your readers can judge for themselves:
    1. Hobby Lobby is a for-profit corporation; that means its primary purpose is profit. A not-for-profit corporation also can make profits, but it states that profit is not its primary purpose.
    2. Hobby Lobby is a closely held company according to the IRS, since 5 or fewer shareholders own 50% or more of the shares.
    3. In Hobby Lobby’s situation, all of the shares are owned by a married couple and their three children. They also manage the business. It is a family business.
    4. The owners are very open about their religious belief (see http://www.hobbylobby.com/our_company/). Part of their belief is that life begins at conception.
    5. The Supreme Court said Hobby Lobby’s group insurance does not have to pay for abortions, emergency contraceptives, and morning-after pills. Their group insurance continues to pay for other forms of contraception.
    6. Hobby Lobby employees are free to use the birth control measures subject to the Supreme Court’s ruling, but they must do so at their own expense.

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