February 17, 2016, Atlanta, GA … The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) vehemently condemned passage of the so-called “First Amendment Defense Act” by the Senate Rules Committee yesterday.  This offensive piece of legislation gives Georgians a license to discriminate in a myriad of contexts based on their religious or moral opposition to same-sex marriage or sexual relations outside of opposite-sex marriage.  The Senate should reject the substitute version of House Bill 757 because it is both morally repugnant and likely unlawful.

ADL Southeast Regional Director, Mark Moskowitz, issued the following statement:

It is disgraceful that in the year 2016 the Georgia legislature is thinking of turning the clock back 50 years. This bill leads the state in the wrong direction and sends a bad message about Georgia to the rest of the country. 

We are staunch advocates for First Amendment rights, including freedom of religion and speech.  But as recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court, these freedoms are not absolute.  For our pluralistic democracy to function, these individual rights in certain contexts must be balanced with the rights of others.  HB 757, however, provides absolute rights to the detriment of others.  Supporters of this legislation fail to understand that in America government should not sanction or fund discrimination. 

Although directed at our State’s LGBT community, HB 757 also could be used to discriminate against others.  For instance, a publicly funded adoption agency could refuse a couple because they are same-sex, Jewish, interfaith or previously divorced.  A public employee would be entitled to harass a co-worker because she is in a same-sex marriage or having sexual relations outside of marriage.  And a public school teacher or student could harass another student because his or her parents are same sex or mother is divorced and in a relationship.

If enacted, ADL firmly believes that this law would be struck down in a federal lawsuit.  The legislation’s preference for one viewpoint runs afoul of the First Amendment and it conflicts with federal anti-discrimination laws, including the 1964 Civil Rights Act.