Outcry over Georgia’s Controversial Business Bill Grows Louder

Last month, our blog spent some time discussing how Georgia was making headlines across the nation over a controversial piece of legislation — House Bill 757 — that its sponsors claim is designed to provide “religious freedom” to business owners in the state.

In recent developments, a revised version of HB 757 was passed by state lawmakers just a few weeks ago and sent to the desk of Governor Nathan Deal. This new version of the bill provides that 1) it is legally permissible for faith-based organizations to refuse certain services to those people who they believe violate their “sincerely held religious belief,” and 2) faith-based organizations cannot be forced to either hire or retain those people who hold beliefs contrary to their own.

In addition, the language dictates that the state may not interfere with this exercise of religion absent a “compelling governmental interest,” and that the law cannot be used as a vehicle for discrimination otherwise prohibited by the state or federal government.

As you might imagine, these recent revisions have done nothing to stem the controversy surrounding the bill, with many arguing that it still paves the way for impermissible and widespread discrimination. In anything, the calls have now grown even louder across the state and around the nation for Deal to veto HB 757.

Continuing to lead the charge against the measure is the Metro Atlanta Chamber and the Georgia Prospers coalition, which counts Coca-Cola, Home Depot, Delta, Google and Marriott as members.

However, more major corporations are now joining the protest against HB 757 with the CEOs of such juggernauts as Apple, Salesforce.com, Intel and Unilever speaking out via Twitter.

Perhaps most interestingly of all, the National Football League released a statement last Friday tacitly condemning HB 757, and indicating that its signing into law could potentially jeopardize Atlanta’s bid to host the 2019 or 2020 Super Bowl in the newly erected $1.4 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“NFL policies emphasize tolerance and inclusiveness, and prohibit discrimination based on age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other improper standard,” said a league spokesperson. “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.”

It remains to be seen what Governor Deal, who has until May 3 to sign HB 757, will ultimately do. While he indicated that he would veto any legislation that legalized discrimination in early March, it’s possible that he could be swayed by the recent revisions.

It’s also possible, however, that the potentially ruinous impact on the state economy — billions of dollars potentially gone due to boycotts and relocations by angry business owners — and the loss of the single biggest sporting event in the nation could sway him to veto the measure.

Stay tuned for updates …

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