Concerning the RFRA Bill

Photo Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons: Eric Wagner
Photo Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons: Eric Wagner

Throughout Georgia, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community and its allies are concerned about a State Assembly bill that will increase the opportunity for discrimination in our state. The Georgia Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), also known as SB 129, would allow people to engage in some forms of discrimination, including against the LGBT community, if it is being done for religious reasons. The Georgia State Senate has already passed the bill, and it is now being taken up by the Georgia House of Representatives.

Passing this bill would be a dramatic setback for LGBT rights in Georgiaand it would create a hostile environment throughout the state for LGBT students, staff and faculty from the Emory University community. If Georgians are allowed to engage in religiously motivated discrimination, members of the Emory community might soon face negative repercussions if their identities or activities run afoul of another’s personal religious beliefs. If RFRA passes the bill, it would also make it more difficult for Emory to compete with other schools for the best students and faculty, as those who are considering Emory may instead select a school in a state that does not have expansive protections for this type of discrimination to take place.

GALA: Emory LGBT Alumni call upon the Georgia legislators to vote down this bill, and we invite the Emory community to join us in opposing this unnecessary and cruel attack on the LGBT community.

SB 129 would make daily interactions fraught with concern for LGBT Georgians (or those who are perceived that way), as we would risk being turned away from a closed-minded business that feels serving a non-straight person is a violation of their religious beliefs. For Emory students, every trip off campus would be needlessly stressful as they would need to be constantly concerned about the possibility of discrimination. RFRA could also be a burden for those outside of the LGBT community who might run afoul of personal religious beliefs, such as an unmarried pregnant woman or a vocal atheist. While the LGBT community might be at the forefront of concerns over opening the door to religiously based discrimination, others in the Emory community might also face this same problem. Now is the time to stand in solidarity with the LGBT community as well as others who might face discrimination to oppose this encroachment on our ability to be free of this persecution.

As Emory seeks to position itself as a nationally distinguished campus, RFRA would undercut this effort and cause major harm to us moving forward. Students and faculty considering Emory would have to weigh the many upsides to our community against the downside of coming to a state that passed a law legalizing discrimination. Our peer institutions throughout the country could point to the many protections being offered to the LGBT community in their states at a time when Georgia is fighting to take a principled stand in favor of intolerance (not to mention, some of our elected leaders are continuing to fight in the courts to preserve our ban on marriage equality).

Last year, a broad coalition including LGBT activists and allies, religious leaders and the business community came together to voice their opposition to the RFRA bill that was being considered. Ultimately, the bill was not passed. This year, a similar coalition assembled, but the RFRA bill had more momentum and cleared the first step in the Senate while moving toward Governor Nathan Deal’s desk and possible ratification.

It’s crucial that members of Emory who are concerned about the negative impact of this legislation on the Emory community and the future of our school and state raise their voices in opposition. Advocacy around this matter can help sway the minds of individual members of the Georgia House of Representatives, and we invite you to join us in speaking up during the remaining days of the legislative session. There have been multiple rallies already at the Capitol in opposition to the RFRA bill, and last year large crowds turning out in opposition helped push the bill into defeat. With limited time left to defeat the bill, any future chance to mobilize protesters at the Capitol demonstrates the widespread opposition to this effort.

The Emory community has demonstrated great wisdom and tolerance in recent years by becoming an ever more welcoming environment for the LGBT community. This is an important moment to take this same principle and apply it to the entire state. Rather than taking a step back, members of Emory can stand in opposition to the SB 129 bill and signal that discrimination against the LGBT community will not be tolerated in our state.