Georgia Senate Advances Bill Allowing Use of Religious Beliefs to Violate Others’ Rights

by Delphine Luneau

If Passed Into Law, SB 180 Could Lead to LGBTQ+ Georgians Being Turned Away from Businesses, Denied Housing, or Refused Service by Government Officials

ATLANTA — The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) — the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ+) civil rights organization — criticized the anti-equality majority in the Georgia Senate for advancing Senate Bill 180, a license to discriminate that allows religious beliefs to be used as a justification for violating the basic civil rights of others.

SB 180 could allow anyone to be exempt from following a law or a governmental policy if they argue that the law or policy burdens their religious beliefs. That means that any person, or even in some circumstances a corporation, could pick and choose which laws to follow on the basis of one belief.

“If Senate Bill 180 becomes law, it could lead to LGBTQ+ Georgians – not to mention women, religious minorities and other vulnerable communities – being turned away from a business, denied housing or refused service because of who they are or who they love,” said HRC Georgia State Director Bentley Hudgins. “Religious freedom is already deeply embedded in the U.S. and Georgia constitutions, and it must not be wielded as a weapon to violate the basic civil rights of others. Lawmakers in the Georgia House of Representatives should quickly reject this discriminatory bill.”

The Georgia Chamber of Commerce and Metro Atlanta Chamber have publicly opposed SB 180, saying in a joint statement this week: “We believe it is best to focus on issues like workforce development, infrastructure and education which move our state forward and improve the quality of life for all Georgians. … we oppose any efforts, including SB 180, that would undermine the state’s strong reputation we have built together.”

The consequences of federal and state religious refusal bills have undermined our core civil rights protections and jeopardized the health and safety of vulnerable people. Business leaders and many faith leaders have opposed efforts to enact these types of bills across the country knowing the harm they can cause. More than 300 major U.S. corporations have spoken out to oppose anti-LGBTQ+ legislation being proposed in states across the country. Major employers in tech, manufacturing, hospitality, health care, retail, and other sectors are joining with a unified voice to say that discrimination is bad for business and to call on lawmakers to abandon these efforts. Over 100 large employers have also signed onto the Count Us In pledge, which includes a commitment to ensure access to health care for their transgender and nonbinary employees.

Religious refusal bills also lead to costly litigation for state and local governments. Allowing people to pick and choose which laws to follow predictably causes harmful confusion. State and local governments have been tied up in court for years defending constitutional laws and policies to which some individuals and businesses object. In 2015, Indiana’s disastrous attempt to pass a similar bill resulted in the loss of 12 conventions and had a negative economic impact of up to $60 million.

The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. HRC envisions a world where LGBTQ+ people are embraced as full members of society at home, at work and in every community.

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