Georgia’s “religious freedom” bill appears to be dead for this session of the legislature, but corporate leaders are speaking out to make sure it is, while the operators of some businesses say they’d take advantage of such a law.
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, already passed by the state Senate, has been sitting in the House Judiciary Committee while legislators debate adding antidiscrimination amendments. Its author, Sen. Joshua McKoon, expects “no further developments,” he told news website Insider Advantage Georgia Wednesday. The legislature adjourns at midnight tonight.
The bill has faced intense opposition because it would allow businesses and individuals to cite religious beliefs as a reason to deny service to, say, LGBT people or members of other faiths. They could use their beliefs as a defense in a lawsuit or against government action.
Major companies have spoken out against similar bills in Indiana and Arkansas, and the Georgia bill has now attracted the attention of Atlanta-based Coca-Cola, which posted a statement on its website this morning. “Coca-Cola does not support any legislation that discriminates, in our home state of Georgia or anywhere else,” it reads in part. “Coca-Cola values and celebrates diversity.”
Several Georgia florists, however, say they’d decline to provide flowers for same-sex weddings. “I would respectfully tell them that I’m sorry, that I just don’t want to do it because of my beliefs,” Melissa Jeffcoat, who works in a flower shop in south Georgia, told CNN’s Gary Tuchman in a story that aired Wednesday.
Her son Carlton Jeffcoat, who also works at the shop, agreed. “I serve a God who’s higher than any Supreme Court judge,” said the young man, who is studying to be a Southern Baptist minister. Employees at neighboring shops expressed similar sentiments, Tuchman reported. Watch the segment at the bottom of this page.
Southern Baptists have been strong supporters of the RFRA, and because of their influence in Georgia, the issue will surface again in next year’s legislative session, predicted Atlanta Journal-Constitution writer Jim Galloway.
“The U.S. Supreme Court will take up the gay marriage issue this month, which will only intensify evangelical efforts to create a legal carve-out for those who fear being tainted by same-sex unions,” he wrote in a piece published online Wednesday evening. “Whether by baking a cake, arranging a bouquet of flowers, or merely serving a couple on a first date.”
What’s more, he pointed out, Georgia plans to hold its presidential primary March 1, along with several other southern states, and the legislature will be in session then. “It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which, come the spring of 2016, we’re not debating Religious Liberty, Part III,” he concluded.