Controversial Georgia ‘religious liberties’ bill stalls

ATLANTA (AP) — A controversial Georgia proposal to require a “compelling governmental interest” before the state interferes with someone’s religious practices stalled Monday when a state Senate committee postponed public testimony on the proposal.

Critics say the bill would legalize discrimination against the LGBT community.

Republican Sen. Marty Harbin of Tyrone, the bill’s author, said he requested the delay because of time constraints and a desire to have the bill fully vetted in committee. In a statement, Harbin said the bill might not move forward this year.

Thursday will mark a Georgia legislative deadline by which bills must generally pass out of one chamber or the other, so timing is tight.

The so-called “religious liberty” bill was introduced last week. It also says that when governmental interference with someone’s religious practices is necessary, the state do so with the “least restrictive means.”

Opponents say the bill is unnecessary because religious protections are already enshrined in the First Amendment.

Harbin said it was drafted to mirror the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a federal law passed by Congress in 1993 and signed by President Bill Clinton, with some slight changes to accommodate state law.

Republican Gov. Brian Kemp pledged while campaigning last year that he would sign a mirror image of the federal law, “nothing more, nothing less.”

Kemp’s office has declined to comment on the pending legislation.

Similar proposals have been defeated or stalled in recent years, encountering resistance among some Republicans, including former Gov. Nathan Deal.

A bill that would have allowed adoption agencies to decline to work with people based on “sincerely held religious beliefs” passed the state Senate last year, but stalled in the House.

In 2016, Deal took a stand against his own party and averted threatened boycotts by major corporations by vetoing a “religious liberties” bill that enumerated actions that “people of faith” would not have to perform for other people.

Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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