Religious liberties bill could hit Georgia’s film industry, Super Bowl bid

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ATLANTA, Ga. — A bill passed by Georgia lawmakers, similar to the one Missouri is considering, has already got the state feeling the heat from some big name industries.

House Bill 757, the so-called religious liberty bill, was passed by the Georgia legislature on March 16 and now awaits the governor’s signature. The bill allows faith-based organizations — churches, religious schools or associations — the right to reject business with people or groups of whom they object. Faith-based groups also could not be forced to hire or retain an employee whose beliefs conflict with the organization.

Opponents to the bill say it allows discrimination, specifically from the LGBT community, who say the bill could be used to deny services to same-sex couples or fire employees for being an LGBT member.

Opponents have also warned that enacting such legislation would prompt businesses to pull out of the state.

And that is becoming a very real possibility for Georgia, after Walt Disney Studios and Marvel Studios both indicated that they would take their business elsewhere “should any legislation allowing discriminatory practices be signed into state law.”

The AMC Network, which produces the massively popular “Walking Dead” series in Georgia has also condemned the bill, saying in a statement, “As a company, AMC Networks believes that discrimination of any kind is reprehensible,” the company said in a statement Wednesday.

The MPAA, which represents numerous major studios, also spoke out against the law.

Losing those businesses would be a major blow to the state, as one research firm ranked Georgia’s film production industry as the nation’s third-largest, behind only California and New York. Georgia reported $1.7 billion was spent on film and television productions in the state in the 2015 fiscal year.

The film industry isn’t the only enterprise that would suffer under the proposed bill.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Friday asked the NFL if the bill would have ramifications for the state.

The league responded with a statement saying, “NFL policies emphasize tolerance and inclusiveness, and prohibit discrimination based on age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other improper standard. 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.”

Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank publicly said that he opposes the bill. The Home Depot founder and Falcons owner since 2002 has high hopes of bringing the Super Bowl to his new stadium, scheduled to open in 2017. The new $1.4 billion facility has already helped the city land the college football championship game in 2018 and the NCAA Final Four in 2020.

Missouri lawmakers are currently debating a similar bill, which has also generated its own share of controversy, with some groups saying the bill would result in massive losses for the state.