LGBT

Here’s What Georgia Businesses Think About The State’s ‘Religious Liberty’ Bill

CREDIT: AP Photo/David Goldman

Activists protest Georgia's "religious freedom" bill at a March 17 rally in Atlanta.

Despite initial optimism that Georgia’s discriminatory “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” (RFRA) had been sufficiently halted in committee on Thursday, activists worry that it could still be revived during the last week of the legislative session. The House Judicial Committee could restore SB 129 to its pre-amended form and advance it, or the RFRA could be tacked onto another pending bill.

Georgia’s businesses have been oddly silent on the bill, despite mounting pressure from an organized Stop SB 129 social media campaign and a fomenting backlash against Indiana’s similar law. With its proponents now on record testifying that circumventing nondiscrimination laws is essential to the bill, however, a few more businesses are speaking out.

The Home Depot, which is based in Georgia and had long been futilely boycotted for the American Family Association for it’s LGBT support, responded directly to a ThinkProgress inquiry about SB 129. Stephen Holmes, Director of Corporate Communications for the home improvement company, said, “We’ve been clear on several occasions that we don’t support anything that discriminates.”

Garin Narain, Vice President of Public Relations for the Atlanta Hawks, Georgia’s professional basketball team, told ThinkProgress that the team does not comment on any pending active legislation. But, he said, “We would not support any legislation that discriminates,” noting that the team opposes all forms of discrimination, including on the basis of sexual orientation.

AmericasMart Atlanta, one of the world’s largest permanent wholesale trade centers, told ThinkProgress that as a privately held organization, it does not take public positions on pending legislation. But, Chelsea Peabody, Strategic and Media Relations Manager for the company, did note, “AmericasMart has a proud history of inclusiveness that stretches back more than 50 years. We will continue to welcome individuals of all races, nationalities, religions and orientations.”

ThinkProgress also reached out on Friday to Coca-Cola, Delta, Turner Broadcasting, the Atlanta Braves, and the Atlanta Falcons, but received no response. This is a bit strange, because both Delta and Coca-Cola opposed an identical bill last year that was advancing alongside Arizona’s, which received much more attention. Delta was “deeply concerned” that the legislation “would cause significant harm to many people and will result in job losses,” while Coca-Cola maintains a commitment to LGBT-inclusive diversity on its website that states, “Coca-Cola does not condone intolerance or discrimination of any kind anywhere in the world.”

Some speculate that lawmakers have intimidated these companies into silence with bills that threaten their business — with Delta serving as the example for others. Still pending in the legislature is a bill (HB 175) that would eliminate Georgia’s tax subsidy on jet fuel, which would primarily hurt Delta. Its sponsor, Rep. Earl Ehrhart (R), makes no secret of the fact that the bill is retribution for Delta CEO Richard Anderson’s recent history of weighing in on public affairs, including last year’s version of RFRA. In fact, Ehrhart has repeatedly supported the jet fuel tax exemption in the past, including the vote to make it permanent in 2012. Though he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he wasn’t primarily motivated by RFRA, Ehrhart relished the company’s predicament: “Will I more than happily take advantage of those who are tired of him chiming in to pass a piece of legislation? Absolutely.”

Though businesses may still be reluctant to chime in, other entities across the state are not. On Friday, the executive board of the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau issued a resolution “in opposition to the implementation of any legislation which could be used to potentially discriminate,” noting that the bill would “tarnish Atlanta’s reputation as one of the world’s most welcoming cities.” It follows a similar letter sent to lawmakers last week by the Georgia Association of Convention & Visitors Bureaus Board of Directors opposing SB 129. “We do not want our future visitors to Georgia to be worried about being faced with any discriminatory behavior under the guise of this bill,” the directors wrote. “This bill is unnecessary, divisive, and a distraction from the issues needed to advance Georgia.”

The convention bureaus are right to be concerned, as many local conferences have already threatened to move out of state if the bill passes, including the comic and fantasy convention Dragon Con as well as the American Society for Higher Education, American Academy of Religion, American Historical Association, German Studies Association, History of Science Society, Philosophy of Science Association, Society for Biblical Literature, and Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts.

Additionally, the NCAA is set to hold its 2019 Convention in Atlanta. The NCAA did not respond to a ThinkProgress request for comment on Georgia’s bill, but it did respond to the passage of Indiana’s RFRA this week, indicating it was “especially concerned.”

Over 200 clergy from different denominations have also signed a letter urging lawmakers not to pass the bill.

Earlier this month, Elton John, who lives part-time in Georgia, penned an op-ed against SB 129 that asked, “Is Georgia turning its back on tolerance?” With the fate of the bill unsettled, that question has yet to be finally answered.

UPDATE

MailChimp shared this official reaction to the bill through spokesperson Kate Kiefer Lee on Sunday:

As a privately held company, we don’t normally comment on public policy. However: We do not support SB 129 or any other discriminatory legislation. We ask Georgia’s lawmakers to join the voices in their community that are saying no to discrimination and intolerance. We’re extremely concerned that this legislation would be harmful to people, cities, and businesses in our state. It also opposes many of our own company’s values: inclusiveness, diversity, equality, and respect.

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