- Associated Press - Monday, April 20, 2015

ATLANTA (AP) - Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, said Monday that 11 of Georgia’s 14 Republican district conventions voted over the weekend to urge the 2016 General Assembly to pass his Georgia Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which failed in the legislative session that ended April 2.

McKoon said Senate Bill 129 is “narrowly drawn” to mirror the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act language, passed in 1993. That act was held inapplicable to state and local governments in 1997 and at least 20 states have passed their own laws.

McKoon said “grass-roots Republicans sent a loud and clear message” to their elected leaders. Three districts didn’t consider a similar resolution. The district conventions were held ahead of the May 15 state convention in Athens. Delegations ranged in size from 75 to more than 300.

In an interview Monday, McKoon said that his bill would have prohibited government from infringing on a person’s religious beliefs unless it could prove a compelling interest.

He said his bill “does not allow any kind of discrimination,” but current Georgia law does not recognize sexual orientation as a protected class.

“So the notion that this bill is going to allow people to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation is not true,” he said.

He said a few years ago a judge in Douglas County ordered a Muslim woman to remove her head scarf and found her in contempt when she didn’t. A lawsuit ensued and it was settled, McKoon said.

Under his bill, he said, “protection can only be asserted when the government is a party to a legal action. My bill is absolutely not a license to discriminate. If anything, it is a law designed to keep the government from discriminating against every faith in our state.”

He cited a case in a North Georgia high school in which coaches “sprinkled in” Christian references in a playbook and got threatened with a lawsuit.

But some contend the proposed law could be dangerous.

Mark Moskowitz, director of the Southeast regional office of the Anti-Defamation League, said the bill could endanger the rights of any group of people.

“So if the baker can say someone who is (lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender) won’t be served because of their lifestyle, they also could use their deeply held religious beliefs as the reason to deny service to Jews or Muslims,” he said.

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