A bill in the Georgia legislature threatens to upend discrimination protections in that state. Compelled by the growing acceptance and legality of same-sex marriages, State Senator Josh McKoon introduced SB 129, the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act.” Of course, there haven’t been any religious freedoms taken away, but legislative bill titles are never bound by the truth anyway.
Basically, the proposed law is about people with anti-gay religious convictions being able to opt out of laws that require them to treat gays without discrimination. However, SB 129 goes beyond that. It gives a carte blanche for someone to pick and choose laws as it pertains to his or her religious belief. The bill specifically states that the exercise of religion “means any exercise of religion, whether or not compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief.”
The “religious freedoms” of the bill open an unlimited amount of complications. This bill would allow anyone to challenge nearly any law based on religious beliefs, and that person does not have to be part of Christianity or any other organized religion. It allows Muslims, spiritualists of any type, Satanists or even atheists to reject laws. Although it’s good that the bill was not written so narrowly that only organized religion benefited from it, the suggestion that someone can discriminate against anyone in the name of religion is absurd for a smooth-functioning society. Realistically, only constitutional protections are ensured against this bill.
Some critics have gone as far as to complain that this bill could increase domestic violence. For example, conservative Christians often favor corporal punishment for children, referring to the Bible as support for using the rod. Increasingly restrictive state laws limit the degree that corporal punishment can be used. Some believe those laws could be jeopardized. There are believers even more extreme. Some believe in “wife spanking.” Since infringing on one’s religious liberties is not limited by organized religion in this bill, the infringement is limited only by the imagination.
These critics are going to far. No law in modern day America is going to allow the justification of spousal or child abuse. When it comes to physically hurting another person, there are laws in place that no law enforcement official is going to ignore when someone is placed in danger. However, the fact that this bill could conceivably justify such actions is clear proof that it is poorly written.
When it comes to catering a wedding for a same-sex marriage, performing a marriage for the same couple or even selling a flower arrangement for such an event, the bill would allow those who think that gay people getting married infringes on their religious beliefs can opt out. The same can be said for employers ignoring contraceptive mandates in health insurance, parents rejecting laws that require vaccinations or the teaching of evolution to their child at a school, and anyone with a religious excuse overriding laws relating to the use drugs.
There is even a valid argument that the bill would override Georgia’s laws against wearing masks in public, thereby, allowing the Ku Klux Klan to legally put on their hoods.
An individual’s right to exercise religion trumps the intent of most laws because the bill states that the government cannot “substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” without a “compelling government interest.”
Obviously, when someone’s life is in danger through violence or a public health matter, such as ignoring food safety laws, the government is going to have a compelling interest. Outside of that, it rests on whatever Georgia courts are going to interpret. Let’s not forget who is at the top of Georgia courts: Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore. Moore is the man who tried to place a Ten Commandments statue at a public building years ago and recently issued a ruling forbidding same-sex marriages. Anyone who thinks that Moore would rule in an inclusive and fair way on this proposed law….Well, Florida is just south of Georgia, and there is some nice swamp land there.
The bill is also designed to be a cash cow for those who feel offended by Georgia laws. This means that if someone feels that a government law is imposing a burden on a religious belief system, then that person may “assert that violation as a claim or defense in a judicial proceeding and obtain appropriate relief against government.” Appropriate relief is simply requiring the government to write a check because someone’s religious beliefs have been interfered with by a law. For a law as broad as this one, it may as well be a demand that the state of Georgia keep signed, blank checks nearby.
Advocates of the bill declare that they are simply passing a law that already exists in thirty states. That’s simply not true. This bill is far more expansive and questionable than anything else in other state laws. As State Senator Greg Kirk says, “This bill restores a higher standard for the state government to restrict the free exercise of religion.” Everything is correct in that statement, except the “restores.” No one has taken away the right of people in Georgia to exercise their religion. On the contrary, this bill expands what can be considered the free exercise of religion to be whatever someone wants.
The First Amendment is the backbone of the Constitution, but there are some limits to it. Just as someone cannot yell fire in a movie theater, neither should anyone be allowed to discriminate or treat badly other people in the name of religion.
Although those limits on expression, association and religion must be narrow and well-thought out, the functioning of society does require some form of a social contract. People cannot decide which laws apply to them and which don’t. To do so violates the basic principles of self-government in a modern democratic society. This would be a nightmare for the police, courts and anyone in government. Even those outside of government who dispense essential services would be faced with a burden of enormous proportions. Doctors, hospitals, sanitation companies and lawyers are just a few who would face a confusing array of complications.That doesn’t even include the public at large, in which no one would know when they are going to step on the religious sensibilities of a fellow citizen and be called out for it. Bills like SB 129 are simply a pathway to anarchy.