Story of Muslim Georgia State student influences new religious liberty bill

A new religious liberty bill is in the works in Georgia for the fourth year in a row,⸺ but this year, the face of the bill is a Muslim woman, whose story was reported first on The Signal.

Georgia State student Nabila Khan, who according to a fall semester Signal article was asked by her professor to remove her niqab, for allegedly going against Georgia’s anti-mask law. The student refused, and months later, Sen. Joshua McKoon used the story to introduce his bill.

“I tried to put myself in her shoes” McKoon said. “Khan’s story puts a human face on what is to most people an abstract legal issue.”

Because this bill would be protecting the rights of Muslims, McKoon said that “It destroys the narrative being pushed that [the bill] protects Conservative Christians,” he said, referring to a lot of criticism last year’s religious freedom bill had received.

Last year’s edition, Senate Bill 129 (SB 129), included the ‘Pastor Protection Act’ which allowed religious institutions to refuse services to members of the community that violated their religious beliefs (same-sex marriage).

Under existing law, Ms. Khan already has a claim based on her right to free exercise of religion,” Lauren Lucas, Georgia State assistant professor of law said. “The fear with such laws is that while they may provide more protection to individuals like Ms. Khan, they also protect individuals who discriminate in the name of religious freedom against certain groups, and the LGBT community in particular.”

Neha Ahmed, a student assistant at Georgia State, said she has never had someone say that wearing her hijab was against the law, but has faced discrimination because of her religion and religious attire.

“I have received several negative remarks in regards to my hijab and comments related to my religion in general,” Ahmed said. “When I first started wearing it, my boss told me that it is against dress code because she did not know it was for a religious reason, but she eventually let me wear it. I have even had someone try to pull off my hijab.”

Ahmed said that the new bill still has space for improvement, but is necessary to “protect the rights of people of all religious backgrounds.”

McKoon said he and other legislators are still working on when to introduce the bill.

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