A former aide to former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum’s presidential campaign wrote in a wry Sunday opinion editorial that a religious liberty bill under consideration by the General Assembly would “chase away business and jobs” as it “create[s] a frightening solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.”
Marisa Flores, who directed Hispanic outreach for Santorum’s Georgia operation, took to the pages of the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer to urge lawmakers to abandon the First Amendment Defense Act lest the local economy backslide.
“For the first time in eight years, Georgia’s unemployment rate fell last month to pre-recession levels,” Flores wrote. “Things were looking up for the state, finally. And then the Georgia General Assembly convened.
“Rather than busy itself with a growth-oriented agenda that might capitalize on the shifting economic tide, lawmakers instead proposed a smattering of bills that would facilitate discrimination by government and business against law-abiding Georgians. Just what we need: something to chase away business and jobs.”
Flores, who said the proposal would facilitate discrimination against gays and lesbians, cohabitating unmarried couples, and divorced persons, said she was terrified government would “grow to a size to empower itself and others to discriminate.”
“Faith genuinely informs my politics, just as it does for Sen. Santorum,” she wrote. “I place my faith in God, not government — and I don’t need government to tell me how to exercise my faith. The expression of my faith free of government intrusion is not in jeopardy, I am certain. But the safety and wellness of some among us are.”
The vehicle for the commentary’s publication is worth noting: the Ledger-Enquirer is the largest newspaper in the district of Senator Josh McKoon, the chief sponsor of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and one of the most vocal proponents in the legislature of related proposals.
The author of Georgia’s failed religious liberty legislation says he will revive the divisive proposal next year as written — without non-discrimination protections for gays and lesbians that supporters in the General Assembly deemed a poison pill.
State Sen. Josh McKoon, the Columbus Republican who authored the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, said in a Monday radio interview that possible discrimination based on sexual orientation is totally immaterial to his bill—it’s already the case in Georgia that private businesses may refuse service to LGBT persons barring municipal nondiscrimination ordinances—and accused activists of dishonestly leveraging the debate over free exercise of faith to force an unrelated discussion about nondiscrimination.
“There’s nothing about this bill that impacts the current state of Georgia law as to whether we’re going to recognize sexual orientation as a protected class,” McKoon told Atlanta NPR affiliate WABE. “I think that one of the objectives of the opposition to this bill has been to create confuse about [religious freedom] to then leverage it to try to talk about [nondiscrimination].”
McKoon evaded questions by host Denis O’Hayer why those two debates—the barring of government from interfering with the free exercise of faith, and codifying in state law sexual orientation as protected class—could not be had in tandem as a means of diffusing criticisms of his bill and similar measures in states like Indiana and Arkansas.
“I don’t think that people of faith in this state should be held hostage to any other issue, any other public policy issue,” he said. “That debate … has nothing to do with the fundamental protection of the first freedom of all Georgians, which is the right of free exercise.”
The GOPer also said he expected state party activists to send a “very strong message” to the General Assembly that the base supports his bill. Party activists will huddle this weekend for district conventions and again next month for the state Republican party’s convention in Athens.
“I’ve been spending most of my time talking to congressional district Republican party chairmen around this state. We’ll be having conventions this Saturday,” he said. “And I expect you’re going to hear a very strong message sent from all over this state and all 14 congressional districts on this issue.”
Asked if that strong message might translate to primary challenges for the three Republicans who were instrumental in the bill’s demise by supporting the inclusion of nondiscrimination clause in committee, McKoon said he wasn’t “in the business of getting into threatening people” but expected it would “certainly impact the debate.”
Listen to the full exchange at WABE’s website.
The author of Georgia’s failed religious freedom proposal complained in a television interview hours before the General Assembly adjourned Thursday night that a “far-left outrage machine” had taken hostage the debate about the free exercise of faith and made it instead about discrimination.
Sen. Josh McKoon, sponsor of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, said on CNN last night that the question of discrimination against gays and lesbians was completely immaterial to his legislation, because discrimination of the sort is already permitted in the state.
“Under current Georgia law, sexual orientation is not a protected class,” McKoon told host Chris Cuomo when asked if his legislation would give license to businesses to discriminate. “And so discrimination on that basis can occur today. My law would in no way impact that one way or the other. We’re not seeking to enable discrimination.”
When Cuomo pressed the Columbus Republican why he objected then to the introduction of a non-discrimination clause, which supporters deemed a poison pill, McKoon argued the amendment was “poorly drafted” but said the debate over discrimination should be had — separately.
“There are 236 members of the Georgia General Assembly and if someone wants to come forward and propose a law that has to do with statewide non-discrimination, I’m ready to have that discussion, I’m ready to have that debate,” he said.
Watch the full interview after the jump.
A fumbled Sunday show interview in which Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who this week approved a controversial religious freedom measure that mirrors proposed legislation here in Georgia, repeatedly refused to say wether the legislation would give broad license to discriminate against gays and lesbians has caught Gold Dome Republicans flat footed.
Georgia’s own religious freedom legislation was tabled this week after a Republican, state Rep. Mike Jacobs, introduced a nondiscrimination amendment during committee that the legislation’s supporters considered a poison pill.
Supporters had hoped to revive the proposal during a special Monday conference of the House Judiciary Committee. Now that meeting has been cancelled, according to a lobbyist for LGBT advocacy group Georgia Equality, dimming already poor prospects the legislation will move from committee to the floor for a full vote before the session expires later next week.
The decision to scrap the Monday meeting came only hours after an appearance by Pence on ABC’s “This Week” in which the Republican repeatedly dodged host George Stephanopoulos’ question whether the law would become a vehicle for discrimination.
A key Democrat involved in the process emailed Tipsheet that the interview, which national gay rights lobby Human Rights Campaign already cut into a digital advertisement, “has them in a spin,” but cautioned that the legislation is not dead.