ATLANTA-- Georgia's state capitol filled with people for and against a lengthening list of "religious freedom" bills Tuesday.There are now eight such bills in the legislature.
The main one, sponsored by Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus) has been been around for going on three years now.
"There are these religious freedom bills that seem to seem to be popping up like so many frogs out of Pharoah's Nile," said Rabbi Joshua Heller, an opponent of the bills who commandeered a podium at the Capitol Tuesday.
That list has become substantial over the last 13 days.
- Two bills call themselves the religious freedom and restoration act, or RFRA.
- Another would outlaw govermment overreach against religious expression
- One is called the first amendment defense act.
- One protects religious expression on the clothing of high school athletes.
- One protects the religious liberties of students.
- One protects florists and other businesses from forcibly participating in gay weddings.
- Another, the pastor protection act, protects pastors from forcibly participating in gay weddings.
That last bill has the backing of a key House Democrat, Minority Leader Rep. Stacey Abrams (D-Atlanta).
"I'm the daughter of ministers. I think that's an important conversation to be had. It's also important to say that changing our evolving laws in our state are not going to fundamentally disturb our religious beliefs," Abrams said, referring to the legalization of gay marriage. "I think the rest of those laws, regardless of who introduces them, are dangerous because they open the door to discrimination and that should never be the posture of this legislature."
But backers of the RFRA measures say they don't discriminate. "We have no desire to discriminate against anyone. The concern I have is that people of faith in Georgia are being discriminated against. And that needs to stop," said Dr. Robert White of the Southern Baptist Convention during a rally inside the Capitol Tuesday.
The Senate passed Sen. McKoon's bill last year. But it remains bottled up in the House, where Speaker David Ralston has expressed concern about it being discriminatory. If he doesn't budge, few of these bills may either.