In the name of God, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful
“Whoever kills a person [unjustly]…it is as though he has killed all mankind. And whoever saves a life, it is as though he had saved all mankind.” (Qur’an, 5:32)
The Atlanta Muslim community expresses profound sorrow over the mass shooting in San Bernardino that claimed the lives of 14 innocent people last Wednesday. Violent crimes such as this have no place in a nation that prides itself on freedom and tolerance.
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) recently died in Georgia legislation for the second year in a row. The Bill was highly controversial, especially after the backlash it received when it passed in Indiana in late March.
So, what did the RFRA really mean? Was it a good option for the community? What should the community look out for if the Bill resurfaces in 2016?
There are several reasons this Bill could be considered something positive for the community. Had this Bill passed there would have been less involvement from the government in private businesses, religion could have been used as an arguable defense in court and it would give additional protection to those who are denied a job because of their religious affiliation.
At the same time, there are many reasons this Bill was so widely opposed. It would allow people to refuse services to individuals for religious reasons, which could be seen as discrimination in some cases. The Bill could also lead to unintended consequences such as giving legal backing to spousal and child abuse “for religious reasons” because its interpretation of ‘religious reasons’ was very loose. It was also seen as a threat to Georgia’s economy, as was the case in Indiana.
Those who opposed the Bill didn’t see its necessity, as there are already laws in place that protect religious freedom. In the case of job discrimination, for example, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act “prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin.”
Earlier this year, a Sandy Springs Department of Driver Services (DDS) agent denied a Muslim woman her license, insisting that Georgia law required her to adjust her headscarf to reveal her ears for the photo.
She then went to the Norcross DDS office and was able to get a license without adhering to this requirement.
According to Georgia law, “A customer may be photographed while wearing a veil, scarf, or headdress so long as it does not cover the area between his or her eyebrows and chin. Customers’ ears need not be uncovered.” -Ga. Comp. R. & Regs. r. 375-3-1-.02(9)
CAIR Georgia contacted the Deputy General Counsel of GA DDS regarding this matter. He responded with clarifications on the law and shared his intentions of training the Sandy Springs DDS agents on the appropriate way to photograph those with religious head coverings.