Outcry Over Indiana and Arkansas Shifts Debate on Using Religion to Discriminate
April 3, 2015
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NEW YORK – Legislation that could have allowed businesses and individuals to use religion to discriminate failed Thursday night in Georgia following a national backlash to similar laws that passed in Indiana and Arkansas.
"Religious freedom is a fundamental American value, but the debate around Indiana has made it crystal-clear that it should not serve as a smokescreen for authorizing discrimination or letting individuals use their religious beliefs to harm others,” said Louise Melling, deputy legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union. “The conversation has forced politicians to reconsider policies that could allow discrimination and harm to countless people by denying them access to basic rights, such as employment, health care, or education."
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal cited the business outcry, threat of boycotts, and the negative national attention focused on Indiana and Arkansas as a reason that the legislation, commonly known as RFRAs, should not move forward this year. The Georgia bill was also widely criticized throughout the state.
Republican governors in Michigan and North Carolina have also gone on the record opposing new RFRA legislation, and the bill in North Carolina has stalled as lawmakers consider the impact it could have on the state’s "brand."
The ACLU opposes RFRAs that could allow religion to be used to advance discrimination and a range of harms. For example, these types of laws could allow a government employee to pick and choose who they will serve, a school counselor to refuse to counsel a gay or transgender teenager, or a pharmacy to refuse to fill prescriptions for birth control pills.
The national outcry over state RFRAs has highlighted the fact that 28 states still lack fundamental nondiscrimination protections for gay and transgender people, which means that discrimination remains legal in most of the country.
RFRAs and other legislation targeting gay and transgender people are still pending in Alabama, Florida, Hawaii, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas. Similar RFRA and other related bills have already been defeated in Colorado, Mississippi, Montana, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming.