Opponents of a Religious Freedom Bill are woefully misinformed on the clear existence of religious discrimination in Georgia. People of faith in Georgia have experienced case after case of blatant disregard for their dignity and religious freedom throughout Georgia. Here are 14 examples of recent religious liberty discrimination in Georgia.
At a House Subcommittee hearing on February 24, 2014, opponents of a Religious Freedom Bill asserted that
religious freedom in Georgia was secure. They repeatedly asserted that there is no evidence of the need for a bill of this nature since the right of conscience and personal dignity of Georgians was sufficiently protected without it. Opponents of a Religious Freedom Bill are woefully misinformed on the clear existence of religious discrimination in Georgia. People of faith in Georgia have experienced case after case of blatant disregard for their dignity and religious freedom throughout Georgia.
The sad fact is that Georgians of faith routinely have their fundamental right to free exercise of religion trampled, ignored and restricted throughout Georgia. That fact ought to be condemned by ALL Georgians, regardless of their belief system or political party. Georgia needs a Religious Freedom Bill. At the hearing, opponents of the bill could not reference a single instance of any Federal RFRA, State RFRA or pre-Smith Free Exercise case in which bigotry or discrimination was upheld by use of similar statutes or the preSmith strict scrutiny standard for Free Exercise cases.
After reviewing this short list of ACTUAL EXAMPLES of religious discrimination in Georgia, it is easy to see the compelling need for a Religious Freedom Bill. This is especially true in light of the fact that none of its opponents have provided even one ACTUAL EXAMPLE of a Free Exercise case allowing the feared bigotry or discrimination to stand. Recent examples of religious discrimination in Georgia:
1. Denial of Religious Club in Atlanta Public Schools. An individual repeatedly requested officials with the
Atlanta Public School system for permission to begin a religious student club at Sutton Middle School. The
District allows many other student clubs to meet before, during, and after school without charge and to have
access to certain benefits and privileges in terms of publicizing group activities to others. The District, based on so-called “separation of church and state” concerns, denied the request for equal treatment. It insists on treating the club as a community organization that must rent school facilities.
2. Restrictions on Public Prayer in Ellijay, GA. Organizers of a prayer chain were informed they would have
to get a permit before being allowed to have a group of people assemble on a sidewalk for quiet prayer. The
organizers filed suit challenging the city ordinance requiring a permit for 3 or more persons to engage in peaceful demonstrations on public sidewalks. The suit alleged that the permit scheme granted too much discretion to the person who issues the permit to engage in viewpoint discrimination and that the requirements for a permit for such a small number of people are unreasonable.
3. Restrictions on Christian Clubs at Savannah State University. Savannah State administrators revoked official recognition for a Christian student club due to alleged hazing violations. According to administrators, this hazing occurred when the ministry held a foot washing ceremony in a discipleship retreat. Such a ceremony follows the example of Christ, who washed the feet of His disciples in an example of service, love, and humility. This resulted in the student group’s complete loss of access to the campus for any activities.
4. Catholic School Barred from Locating in Suwanee, GA. A Catholic School identified a large tract of land
within the city of Suwanee to purchase in order to build a permanent facility for its primary and secondary
schools. Within two days of learning of the intended purchase by the Catholic School, the City of Suwanee
passed a moratorium on “large projects” on land in excess of five (5) disturbed acres. The only project that met the criteria of the moratorium was the Catholic School’s project.
5. Restrictions on Free Speech at Georgia Institute of Technology. Georgia Tech had various speech code
policies, which applied to students and student organizations and limited their ability to express views on topics that the Institute deemed “intolerant.” Georgia Tech also limited the locations on its huge campus where students could engage in free speech to certain tiny “speech zones” and refused to give student activity funds to student organizations that engaged in “religious activities.”
6. Restrictions on Christian Clubs at University of Georgia. A Christian group at University of Georgia holds Bible studies, accountability groups, service projects, fellowship activities, parties, evangelistic outreaches, and team athletic events for its members. The members and officers of the group must profess faith in Jesus Christ, subscribe to the group’s doctrinal statement, and adhere to its Code of Conduct (which features the Biblical standard for morality). University of Georgia administrators refused to recognize the fraternity because it violated the University’s nondiscrimination policy. Because of the group’s religious qualifications for members and leaders, the University refused to recognize it, thus depriving it of benefits and privileges that belong to every other student organization.
7. Public Speech at Georgia Southern University. An individual visited a “free speech area” on the Georgia
Southern University campus with a few friends to share a Christian message with students through signs,
literature, and conversation. A university official told the group that they had to fill out a permit application to have their expression reviewed and approved. The forms, which must be submitted two days prior to a requested speaking engagement, require detailed personal information as well as the proposed topic and time of the expression. When they continued to share their message with passersby, an officer interrupted their activity, insisted that they were trespassing on “private property,” and stated they needed university permission to speak on campus. When one member of the group resumed speaking, he was abruptly taken into custody by university police officers, who handcuffed him and drove him to a holding cell before he was transported to city jail, where he was held for nearly six hours.
8. Denial of After-School Bible Club in Banks County. An individual requested permission to start an afterschool Bible club at schools within the Banks County School District. The board denied the request even though the club provided all the necessary documentation to use school facilities for its meetings. However, the school district permitted other groups, such as the Boy Scouts, to use school facilities for their meetings.
9. Restrictions on Church Rentals in DeKalb County, GA. A church rented a Recreation Center in DeKalb
County, Georgia for weekly church services. In May 2012, they were told that the park board would no longer
rent the Recreation Center to churches. The park board claimed it was pursuant to a new (unwritten) policy.
10. Distribution of Religious Literature at Pine Mountain Library. Christians were denied the right to place
free Bibles in a library which allowed community materials to be distributed.
11. Restriction against Religious, Pro-life Speech in Gwinnett County. A student at Phoenix High School in
Gwinnett County chose to wear his pro-life sweatshirt to school as part of the Students Day of Silent Solidarity and was told by the principal that if he did not remove it he would be suspended. The student stood firm in his convictions and refused to remove his sweatshirt. He was then suspended, and he was told that he would be suspended every day that he wears a pro-life sweatshirt.
12. Church Denied Zoning Exception. Church sought a zoning exception to locate next to a sexually oriented
business. The sexually oriented business challenged the special exception as being detrimental to its business.
13. Church Denied Permit in Coweta County, GA. A church purchased a lot of property in Coweta County that is very rural. All owners of the parcels adjacent to the church property are white. The County denied their permit for a church saying neighbors complained. This is the only church denied a building permit in the last 5 years.
14. Zoning Restrictions on Church in Atlanta, GA. Challenge to the zoning code in Atlanta, Georgia. The code
permitted clubs, lodges, and other similar uses to locate as of right in the zone but has denied the church the ability to lease property in that same zone.