If Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R) signs a religious liberty bill into law in the coming weeks, he may have to say goodbye to his state’s hope of hosting a Super Bowl.
On Friday, the NFL issued a statement on Georgia’s House Bill 757, which would allow faith-based groups, including churches and religious schools, to refuse service to people if that service violated the group’s religious beliefs.
“NFL policies emphasize tolerance and inclusiveness, and prohibit discrimination based on age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other improper standard,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in a statement. “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, whose new Falcons stadium is set to open in 2017, had hoped to host a Super Bowl in 2019 or 2020. The bill could put a kink in those plans if it’s signed into law by Gov. Deal. On top of the language on faith-based groups, the bill ensures that pastors cannot be forced to preside over same-sex marriage ceremonies, and that individuals cannot be forced to attend these ceremonies. Gay rights activists have called the bill, which has gone through multiple changes but whose latest version passed the state House Wednesday, a “slap in the face,” the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.
The NFL has been joined by multiple other groups in speaking out against the bill. Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank said Friday that he believes a “diverse, inclusive and welcoming Georgia is critical to our citizens and the millions of visitors coming to enjoy all that our great state has to offer” and that the bill “undermines these principles and would have long-lasting negative impact on our state and the people of Georgia.” More than 480 businesses — including Atlanta-based Delta, Coca-Cola, and Home Depot — have come out against the bill. On Friday, Apple added its voice to the protests, urging Gov. Deal to veto the legislation and “send a clear message that Georgia’s future is one of inclusion, diversity and continued prosperity.”
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has also condemned the bill, saying he “can’t express the amount of damage that is being done to Atlanta and Georgia’s reputation as the business center and cultural center of the Southeast.” Indeed, the Metro Atlanta Chamber and the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau have said that, if visitors begin boycotting Georgia over the bill, it would mean a $1 billion to $2 billion hit to the state’s economy.
Gov. Deal has until May 3 to sign the bill, and as of now, it’s unclear whether or not he will do so. Deal came out against a previous version of the bill, which he said could be seen as allowing discrimination, but he hasn’t said whether he’ll sign the latest version.
“We do not have a belief in my way of looking at religion that says we have to discriminate against anybody,” Deal said in early March, when lawmakers were debating an earlier version of the bill. “If you were to apply those standards to the teaching of Jesus, I don’t think they fit.”
The fight against Georgia’s religious liberty bill echoes a fight over a similar bill in Indiana last year. That bill, which was signed into law last March, went further than Georgia’s, extending protection to businesses that choose to refuse service to customers in the name of religious rights. Arkansas’ governor also signed a religious liberty bill into law last April.