‘Religious Freedom’ Bill Could Cost Georgia Billions If Not Vetoed By Governor Deal

Georgia’s bid for so-called “religious liberty” may cost it millions of dollars in revenue.

Last week, the Georgia state House and Senate passed HB 757. HB 757, also known as the “Act to Protect Religious Freedom,” aims to protect religious freedoms already protected by the Constitution of the United States. This should mean that the law is redundant. In practice, the bill grants religious organizations the right to discriminate against people who do not adhere to their religious practices.

HB 757 protects religious institutions from discrimination lawsuits.
Sections of HB 757 grant churches the ability to refuse to perform marriage or grant charity to same-sex couples. Sections of HB 757 also grants churches the ability to fire anyone who for any reason doesn’t adhere to their religious tenants. This includes employees who follow other denominations, employees who practice other religions, and employees who practice no religion. The entire bill protects churches from facing lawsuits or losing tax-exempt status for refusing services.

Same-sex couples aren’t the only ones targeted by HB 757. Section 3 prevents employers or the government from making holy rest days mandatory work days. But the bill limits rest days to Saturday and Sunday. The Muslim day of rest falls on Friday. According to the 2010 U.S. Religious Census, Muslims are the largest non-Christian religious group in Georgia. Yet none of Georgia’s estimated 50,000 Muslims have a legally protected day of rest in Georgia.

HB 757’s supporters claimed the bill as a victory for religious liberty, but it may have consequences they didn’t foresee. According to Yahoo! Sports, the Metro Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau said the bill could cost the state $1 billion to $2 billion. Home Depot, Coca-Cola, Google, and Microsoft all voiced opposition to HB 757.

But the largest battle may still be on the horizon. On March 19, the NFL released a statement opposing HB 757.

“NFL policies emphasize tolerance and inclusiveness.. whether the laws and regulations of a state and local community are consistent with these policies would be one of many factors NFL owners may use to evaluate potential Super Bowl host sites.”

Which means the so-called “religious freedoms” bill could cost Atlanta the Super Bowl.

Arthur Blank warns that HB 757 could cost Georgia billions in revenue
Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank is currently constructing a $1.3 billion stadium in Atlanta. With the new stadium, Blank hopes to win multiple Super Bowls. And Blank’s plan was working. Atlanta is reportedly on the short list to host the Super Bowl in 2019 or 2020. Blank voiced strong opposition to HB 757.

And history suggests that the NFL isn’t making an idle threat. In 1993, the NFL moved Super Bowl XXVII from Arizona to California after the legislature refused to recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The NCAA similarly threatened to bar Indiana from hosting events because of the state’s “religious freedom” act.

The potential loss of revenue places a large burden of Georgia Governor Nathan Deal’s shoulders. In early March, Deal threatened to veto the bill if it legalized discrimination. Yet this week, Deal praised both sides for coming to a compromise on the issues. The Republican governor has not indicated whether he will sign HB 757 in its current form.

Businesses in Georgia are lining up to urge Deal to veto HB 757. According to the Washington Post, Georgia Prospers, a group boasting several Fortune 500 corporations among its members, is urging Deal to follow through with his veto threat. Georgia Prospers has name recognition and lots of money behind it. AIG, Bank of America, Chase, Delta Airlines, Honeywell, IBM, Live Nation, Marriott, Nordstrom, and Verizon are all members of Georgia Prospers.

Whatever decision Governor Nathan Deal makes, he’s bound to alienate people on one side of the debate or the other. The question is whether Deal values his religious constituents enough to alienate his business constituents.

[Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images]