Senate Republicans approve religious freedom bill, sending it to House for consideration


ATLANTA — Senate lawmakers have given a thumbs up to legislation intended to protect religious rights from being infringed upon by state and local governments.

Senate Bill 180, which passed 33-19 along party lines, now goes to the House for consideration.

The bill mirrors a 1993 federal law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which says that a government must show a compelling interest to force someone to go against their sincerely held religious beliefs and, when it does so, must use the least restrictive means possible.

“This is great legislation that protects people of faith from government intrusion,” said Mike Griffin, public affairs representative for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board. “It is about preventing discrimination by standing for the citizens as the Constitution would have us do.”

Republican Sen. Ed Setzler of Acworth said Georgia needs its own religious protection bill because, he said, the federal law doesn't protect against attacks on religion by state and local governments.

“It simply makes the government pause and think, do we have a compelling interest in this, and if we do, are we accommodating people’s religious faith in every way possible,” Setzler said.

Frontline Policy President Cole Muzio the Senate's approval fo the measure "is a profound statement that Georgia values and safeguards the right of its citizens to practice their faith without fear of government overreach."

Lawmakers passed a religious freedom bill in 2016 over objections from business organizations worried by threats from organizers of conventions and sporting events to boycott Georgia if the legislation became law. Then-Republican Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed the measure after a storm of protest from civil rights groups who argued the measure could negatively impact the LGBTQ+ community.

Setzler said the bill now under consideration is a far different version than the legislation Deal vetoed.