By ANDREW NELSON, Staff writer | Published March 18, 2015
ATLANTA—The Catholic bishops of Georgia are supporting the contentious proposed religious freedom bill under consideration by the Legislature.
But Atlanta Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory and Savannah Bishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv., said in a statement they “oppose any support or implementation of (a religious freedom law) in a way that will discriminate against any individual.”
The Georgia Catholic bishops said they are supporting Senate Bill 129, known as the Georgia Religious Freedom Restoration Act, “as a framework for evaluating freedom of religion claims” in court.
The bill would forbid state government from infringing on a person’s religious beliefs unless the government can prove it has a compelling interest. The bill has drawn both support and opposition from clergy members. It mirrors federal legislation Congress passed in 1993 and signed into law by President Bill Clinton.
The bishops’ statement called religious freedom “a fundamental right.” The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has supported the federal law and many bishops have endorsed similar legislation in states, said the statement.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 19 states have similar laws and 10 states are currently considering them.
Some opponents fear that, if enacted, the bill could open the door to different types of discrimination.
In other news, the Georgia Catholic Conference gave a mid-session update about legislative efforts at the Georgia Statehouse.
Frank Mulcahy, the executive director, said in an email, “I am pleased to see some progress in opposing human trafficking by finding funds to help victims and that there is a real possibility that insurance funds will be made available for autistic children.”
March 13 was Crossover Day, the last day of the legislative session for proposed laws to pass out of the House or Senate to have any chance of being enacted.
Mulcahy said efforts have paid off on certain proposed end-of-life bills. Some proposals about treatment for patients with terminal conditions were revised to include life “provisions (that) are as consistent as possible with Catholic teaching.”
Other related medical issues have also been revised so they specifically exclude assisted suicide, he said.
On funding for schools, including student scholarship organizations such as Grace Scholars, he said lawmakers await the work of the education reform commission created by the governor. A report is due in August.
The Georgia Catholic Conference is supporting a bill to help victims of human trafficking. The Senate passed it and it is under consideration in the House. The bill would start a Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children Fund and Commission.
A bill to fund autism treatment has been assigned to the House Insurance Committee and is awaiting a hearing. It requires state-regulated health plans to cover the screening, diagnosis and treatment of autism through age 6.
For updated news and information from the Georgia Catholic Conference, visit www.georgiacc.org.