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‘Religious Liberty’ Bill Will Legalize Discrimination

A “religious liberty” bill in the Georgia House of Representatives could be used to legally justify discrimination, Robbie Medwed, the assistant director for Southern Jewish Resource Network for Gender and Sexual Diversity, told members of the Young Democrats at the University of Georgia on Wednesday.

Last Thursday, House Bill 218, known as the “Preventing Government Overreach on Religious Expression Act” was introduced in Georgia by state Rep. Sam Teasley (R-Marietta). The bill is part of a growing trend of religious liberty bills throughout the nation. 

Medwed presented concerns that these bills will be abused in order to justify discrimination, child abuse and domestic violence.

“If you ask [the sponsors of the bill], they will say that all it does is strengthen our First Amendment rights,” Medwed said. The bill was originally intended to purely protect religious rights, but the new versions could allow for “state-protected abuse,” he said. 

Among the discriminatory practices that could be protected are police officers refusing to protect a mosque, a pharmacist refusing to fill a prescription for birth control pills or a homeless shelter refusing to house member of the LGBT community, according to handout provided by Medwed.

The original version of the varying state bills was drafted in 1993 at the federal level. Although the drafters of the new bill say that it is identical to the federal version, the bill is not being used for its original intended purpose, he said.

“They will tell you that what they are doing is just copying the federal version of the bill—which in some ways is true—but what they are missing is that the people that worked on the bill back in 1993 in the U.S. Congress have come out and said, ‘This is a bad idea. The way it is being used is not the way that we intended,’” Medwed said.

The bill’s distorted purpose is now to support rulings such as the Supreme Court decision to allow Hobby Lobby to refuse to offer employees healthcare plans that include contraceptives because the owners are Christians, Medwed said.

HB 218 has been assigned to the House Judiciary Committee. A hearing has not been scheduled.