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Rep. Sam Teasley, speaks out in favor of a religious freedom bill during a news conference on Jan. 28, 2015, in Atlanta.

Now playing: The Quest for Freedom, Part II.

At least, that's how one side sees a so-called religious liberty bill brewing in the Georgia Legislature. The other side? They see a propaganda film, one diced with discrimination-boosting subliminal messages.

This year marks the second straight legislative session that Rep. Sam Teasley, R-Marietta, has presented this bill. The Preventing Government Overreach on Religious Expression Act calls for legal measures that stop government officials from placing a "substantial burden" on someone's exercise of faith.

In 2014, Teasley's bill died a quick death, suffocated by critics who called it backwards and Georgia corporate leaders who didn't want their state associated with anything that could be construed as discrimination.

But he said last year's problems were the result of misunderstandings. This bill won't cause discrimination, he said. This bill protects people from a tyrannical government that would punish people for expressing their religious beliefs.

If passed, Georgia would become the 20th state with a Religious Freedom Restoration Act, joining Tennessee, which passed similar legislation in 2009. The Georgia bill's language is based on a federal act that Congress passed in 1993.

"This should not be controversial," Teasley said.

Except that it is. Critics say the language in Teasley's bill is too broad and could allow companies to discriminate against customers and potential employees. For example, a diner owner could legally kick out a gay couple, ignoring Georgia's anti-discrimination and civil rights laws.

The Supreme Court has determined that corporations are people. And Teasley's law protects people from a government putting a burden on their religious expression.

So, in theory, the owner of a corporation could argue that refusing to serve certain people was important to his or her faith.

Teasley has not seen any evidence for this argument.

"I don't know of a single case where that's happened," he said. "In 20 years of RFRA history, they can't point to a single case where it's been used to discriminate.

American Civil Liberties Union senior staff attorney Rose Saxe said that is not true. In the 1990s, for example, landlords in Anchorage, Ala., refused to rent property to unmarried couples. They said they didn't want to encourage what they believed to be sin.

The state's fair housing provisions prohibited discrimination on the basis of marital status. But the landlords filed a lawsuit, citing RFRA. Judges for the U.S. District Court and U.S. Court of Appeals agreed, though they also cited the First Amendment's clause guaranteeing free exercise of religious beliefs.

Saxe said Teasley's bill is too broad. Too many actions could fall under the umbrella of "religious discrimination."

"If there is a specific problem," she said, "you can pass a law to clarify that."

Why is this law necessary? Teasley cited several examples of people who have been "marginalized" because of their Christian faith. For example, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., police arrested a 90-year-old man in November for feeding the homeless, a violation of a city ordinance.

Soon after the arrest, attorneys filed a lawsuit against the city, arguing that the ordinance violates Florida's Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Religious leaders have been split on Teasley's bill. Last month, a coalition of about 60 clergy members in Georgia signed a letter opposing the bill, fearing it could legalize discrimination.

Leaders of the Georgia Baptist Convention, meanwhile, stood alongside Teasley and Senate sponsor Josh McKoon during a press conference touting the bill last week.

"This should be the easiest piece of legislation," said Mike Griffin, the public affairs representative for the Georgia Baptist Convention. "It should have the most bipartisan, across-the-board support of anything we can do."

Last year, prominent Atlanta businesses like Coca-Cola, Delta Air Lines and Home Depot opposed the bill. Asked last week by the Times Free Press whether the company's stance has changed, a Home Depot spokesman wrote, "We won't support anything that discriminates."

Local lawmakers are also split on the issue. Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, believes the bill is too broad.

"It will generate lawsuits more than it will protect anybody," he said.

Rep. Tom Weldon, R-Ringgold, said he had not yet read the bill or formed an opinion. But Reps. Steve Tarvin, R-Chickamauga, and John Deffenbaugh, R-Lookout Mountain, support the measure.

Both said they don't support discrimination. But at the same time, they don't think the government should determine those issues.

"I don't know anybody who has a company that would reject everybody who has blonde hair just because they have blonde hair," Deffenbaugh said. "But on principle I agree with their right to do that if they want. A company that did that would not be in business very long. It's their risk. Their money. Their product."

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at tjett@times freepress.com or at 423-757-6476.

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