Georgia's religious freedom bills in trouble

10:20 PM, Feb 27, 2014   |    comments
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  • Protestors at Georgia religious freedom bill hearing
  • GA State Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus)
  • GA State Rep. Karla Drenner (D-DeKalb County)
  • GA State Rep. Sam Teasley (R-Marietta)
  • Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer
  • Protestors over Arizona law

ATLANTA - "All we wanted to do was to give ordinary Georgians the same religious liberty protections in court that are enjoyed by 31 other states and people in federal institutions," State Senator Josh McKoon (R-Columbus) told 11Alive News on Thursday.

But he claims he's the victim of a calculated misunderstanding.

Sen. McKoon and State Representative Sam Teasley (R-Marietta) have both introduced bills to protect religious liberty.

They cite the case of Florida college student Ryan Rotela, who was disciplined for not stepping on the word "Jesus" during a class exercise, and Catholic groups, like the University of Notre Dame, who are suing over being forced to provide birth control under the new federal health care law.

But both bills, HB1023 and SB377, have run into a storm of protest, especially from gay rights groups, who fear they will allow people and businesses to discriminate against them on religious grounds.

Openly lesbian State Rep. Karla Drenner (D-DeKalb County) says while the intention may sound good, she fears unforeseen consequences.

"What if I had some serious illness and the best doctor in the country had a religious issue with the fact that I was gay and refused to treat me?" she told 11Alive.

"These religious freedom laws, to me, which may just be common sense, are now pink laws, you know; these are potentially laws to discriminate against gay people," Drenner added.

"The notion that this bill would in any way allow someone to discriminate on any basis is simply ridiculous," Sen. McKoon insists.

But he admits support for the bills has begun evaporating, especially since some major companies, like Delta Air Lines, have issued statements against them.

"There have been a lot of people who have backed away from this as an issue because, frankly, they're afraid," McKoon added.

He also takes issue with people who compare the Georgia bills to one vetoed Wednesday evening by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer.

"Both the bill in the House and the Senate here in Georgia are not the Arizona legislation," he said.

Either way, neither bill has passed the Georgia House or Senate and both could die if they don't make it through at least one side by next Monday, which is Crossover Day.

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