By Maria Saporta
Concerned business leaders are stepping up their efforts opposing the “religious freedom” legislation that passed the Georgia Senate on Friday.
The Metro Atlanta Chamber gave a letter to every Georgia senator – stating that it had signed the Georgia Prospers pledge, an initiative led by former Republic Senate Majority Leader Ronnie Chance. The letter said the organization has more than 300 Georgia-based companies that have signed on.
Mary Moore, founder and CEO of Cook’s Warehouse, explained that the religious freedom legislation could become “a big problem” for Georgia’s economic future.
The Georgia Senate passed legislation on Friday that combined two religious freedom bills: the “Pastor Protection Act,” which would assure clergy they would not have to perform same-sex marriages; and the “First Amendment Defense Act,” which would allow religious nonprofits to deny services to same-sex marriages.
“If this moves forward, it will be a huge step backwards for Atlanta,” Moore said in a telephone interview on Sunday. “We will become a national poster child for discrimination.”
Already Moore said that some international business colleagues have asked her why Georgia is spending time on such legislation instead of dealing with substantive issues like transportation and poverty
Moore said that Georgia legislators also should remember what happened last year in Indiana, when similar religious freedom legislation passed – a move that led to threats of businesses boycotting the state. The Indiana Legislature quickly changed the bill to avoid a major backlash over passing the law.
Backers of the bill say those fears have been overblown, and they argue that it will not be used to discriminate. Even Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle came out in favor of the bill.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal visited with the Metro Atlanta Chamber’s executive committee Thursday morning when the issue was discussed. But the governor apparently didn’t make any promises about what he would do.
“I thought everyone was on the same page,” said Moore, who was not at the meeting. But she added the governor usually makes decisions that support smart pro-business decisions.
Atlanta currently is in the running to host either the Super Bowl of 2019 or the Super Bowl of 2020. Because of the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium currently under construction, Atlanta, it is thought to have a good shot when NFL owners vote later this spring.
“If this passes the House, and Gov. Deal signs it, it will put the nail in the coffin for the Super Bowl in Atlanta,” Moore said.
It’s not just major sporting events and conventions that would be impacted with the passage of the religious freedom bill, it also could cause companies interested in investing in Georgia to reconsider.
According to a story by “Freedom for all Americans,” a Georgia-based telecom company – 373K – announced via Twitter that “it’s time to relocate.” David Badash of 373K said the company would be moving to Nevada – just because of the Senate’s vote.
Moore said Georgia also must consider how the bill would be perceived by millennials, a group the state is trying to attract.
“It would absolutely fly in the face of what we are trying to in Georgia,” Moore said. “It would be a huge turn-off.”