When this writer spoke with the House of Representatives author of the “religious liberty” legislation, Rep. Sam Teasley, R-Marietta, admitted that it tanked during the last General Assembly session because not enough “public education and public relations effort” accompanied the introduction. It appeared the same problem for the authors would occur this month as the General Assembly opened. Prominent Atlantabusinesses and the vocal gay lobby again voiced concerns that the bill is “discriminatory” — a potent argument that was successful in 2014.

Teasley and Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus (the Senate sponsor), countered by saying this time they “tweaked” the legislation to make it more palatable, especially to business community critics. Teasley told me his House Bill 29 is based on federal law passed by Congress and signed by then-President Bill Clinton. The bill says a state or local government has to show “a compelling interest” for why its policies should override a person’s religious freedom. It does not apply to businesses, he says.

Yet influential segments of the business community, the state Chamber of Commerce, and the gay lobby so far haven’t been convinced. However, a strange dynamic has just entered this emotional debate: The controversial firing by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed of the city’s devoutly Christian fire chief, coupled with surprising comments by Gov. Nathan Deal.

The governor said this year’s changes, particularly the business exemption, “would probably ameliorate some of the concerns” that the legislation could legalize a form of discrimination against gays and others. “I personally do not think that the adoption of such a law would have the negative impact that many people portrayed it would have,” Deal said. 

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