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Georgia’s latest ‘religious liberty’ bill sparks a fight in the Senate

House passes bill that strips funding from ‘sanctuary campuses’


The Georgia House on Wednesday approved a measure that would cut off state funding to Georgia colleges that declare themselves “sanctuary campuses” that would defy President Donald Trump’s immigration policy.

The House voted 112-57, largely along party lines, to approve state Rep. Earl Ehrhart’s proposal to ban colleges from receiving state funds if they aren’t complying with state and federal law.

The Powder Springs Republican introduced House Bill 37 after Emory University and other colleges flirted with the “sanctuary” declaration. Since then, though, Emory and other Georgia higher education institutions have steered clear of the fight.

“Not to put too fine a point on it, there is no sanctuary from the law,” Ehrhart said, adding that his bill mirrors state law barring cities from declaring themselves sanctuaries.

His bill, he said, “says if you don’t follow the law in this country, then public funds, state funds, are not going to follow you.”

Democrats said, however, that the bill is unnecessary and unnecessarily hurtful. Students in Georgia with special protections granted by the Obama administration are not breaking the law, said state Rep. David Dreyer, D-Atlanta, and shouldn’t face losing their scholarships or HOPE grants with no recourse.

“I absolutely don’t think (the bill) is necessary, and I wish the folks in the Republican Party would look at the problem of no due process” for affected students, Dreyer said.

Students and faculty from more than 100 universities from across the country have called on their administrators to declare themselves sanctuaries after Trump’s election, partly in hopes of helping “Dreamer” students who were granted a temporary reprieve from the threat of deportation by the Obama administration.

Trump has taken a hard-line approach to illegal immigration, vowing to build a wall and crack down on the estimated 11 million people living in the country illegally.

Ehrhart’s proposal, which now goes to the state Senate, would threaten even private institutions with a costly punishment for declaring themselves a “sanctuary” campus. Emory receives tens of millions in state dollars each year for health services and tuition assistance grants.

The school has backed down from a post-election push to declare itself a “sanctuary.” University President Claire Sterk told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution such a declaration is only “symbolically important” and warned it could hurt the school’s research and education funding.

Agnes Scott College has also stopped short of becoming a “sanctuary” campus, though the Decatur private school’s president, Elizabeth Kiss, said it would continue to support students who have been granted temporary protection from deportation.

Ehrhart’s legislation is the latest Georgia GOP response to a wave of left-leaning activism greeting Trump’s immigration policies.

The president signed an executive order aiming to strip federal grant funding from cities that defy federal immigration rules, one reason that Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said in January that he wouldn’t declare the city a “sanctuary.”

“What I’m going to do is continue to meet the standards we put forth as a welcoming city,” Reed said. “I’m not going to shift from our approach. … The work we’ve done to embrace refugees and immigrants is among the most forward-thinking approaches in the nation.”


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