Georgia legislature passes ‘Religious Liberty’ bill

Georgia legislature passes ‘Religious Liberty’ bill

The Georgia legislature today passed the hotly debated HB 757, the ‘Religious Liberty’ bill which has been among the most controversial measures of the past two legislative sessions.

The final bill combines parts of several different bills which were introduced in both houses over the past two months.  Protecting pastors from performing same-sex marriages if they are against their belief and allowing faith-based organizations to deny service to anyone who violates their sincerely held views on marriage are two of the main tenets of the bill.  It also contains much of the same language outlined in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.

Governor Nathan Deal last week raised concern over the bill, worried by the business community’s continued opposition.  That concern led to a provision added today which states that the bill can’t be used for “discrimination on any grounds prohibited by federal or state law.”

So now pastors and religious organizations are safe from the ever-looming threat of having to serve same-sex couples or keep on employees who do anything that violates their religious beliefs.  A heavy handed solution to a problem which by all accounts doesn’t appear to exist.  What will be real though, should Deal sign off on the bill, are the economic ramifications which are sure to come.

The Metro-Atlanta Chamber of Commerce has stated that it projects losses of over $1 billion if groups begin boycotting the city as a location for conferences and conventions.  Some of Atlanta’s biggest companies, including Home Depot and Coca-Cola, have already voiced displeasure at what will be viewed by many as an attack on gay-rights.

When Indiana passed similar legislation last year, the fallout was immediate and severe.  Salesforce immediately cancelled all programs which required employees to come to the state.  The Governors of Vermont, Connecticut, New York, and Washington, along with the Mayors of San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington D.C., all banned non-essential state-funded trips to the state.  Online rating website Angie’s List cancelled a $40 million expansion to its HQ in Indianapolis.

In Arizona, Governor Jan Brewer was forced to veto her state’s version of the bill when the NFL threatened to pull the Super Bowl from Phoenix.  With Atlanta vying for its own chance to host the game in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, could we see the league leverage its influence here?

All this is of course, leaving out the blooming Georgia film industry, which is as fickle as it is progressive.  Expect to hear from them in coming days, and don’t expect them to be happy.

Deal earlier this month came out rather forcefully against the bill, saying that, “We do not have a belief in my way of looking at religion that says we have to discriminate against anybody.”  Improving Georgia’s economy has always been the primary focus of the Governor, so we will see if he signs off on a bill that threatens to undo much of what he has accomplished over his two terms.