Religious Exemption Bill in Georgia Endangers State’s $6 Billion Film Industry

By Adam Polaski • February 24, 2016 • 1:09 pm
For years, business leaders and officials in Georgia have been working hard to make Atlanta the “Hollywood of the South,” encouraging the film industry to shoot projects and center their work in one of the largest metropolitan areas in the country. From The Walking Dead to the Divergent series to the Fast and the Furious franchise to many Marvel superhero movies, hundreds of projects have been filmed in Georgia – and they’ve had an enormous impact on the state’s economy.

Just a few weeks ago, Governor Nathan Deal aggressively defended Georgia’s film tax credit against criticism from some lawmakers in his own party. The tax cut, Deal said, helped bring more than 79,000 jobs and 120 firms to Georgia; as well as about $4 billion in wages. He expressed a commitment to protecting the industry’s investment in Georgia, explaining:

“I am committed to protecting the film tax credits that make this type of blockbuster economic impact possible. Why would anyone want to make changes to our current system which would only infringe on an industry that employs thousands of Georgians, brings new business to our state regularly and generates billions of dollars in our statewide economy? … I see no need to alter or fix something that is not broken.”

Now, however, all of that work to build up the entertainment industry in Georgia is in jeopardy. That’s because lawmakers in the state are pushing through HB 757, a hugely overreaching bill that arms any individual, business, or organization with a License to Discriminate. The legislation would allow individuals and faith-based organizations receiving taxpayer funding to refuse service to anyone who conflicts with their religious view of marriage as between one man and one woman. But the bill is laced with exceptionally broad language, even giving cover to for-profit entities if they include religious beliefs in their mission statements.

The business community is rallying opposition to the terrible legislation, which passed the Georgia Senate last Friday.  The Metro Atlanta Chamber reiterated its opposition to the divisive legislation, and at least one business has already declared it’s “time to relocate.” Now, leaders in the burgeoning entertainment industry are speaking out, too. Brian Tolleson, a native Georgian entrepreneur who founded BARK BARK and works in the entertainment industry with clients from coast to coast, warned about the impact the License to Discriminate bill would surely have on Georgia. Speaking to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Tolleson said the License to Discriminate bill “would really do irreparable harm to our brand as a state.”

Tolleson, the entertainment entrepreneur who owns BARK BARK, said the License to Discriminate legislation gives a competitive edge to other cities looking to maintain or grow the industry’s presence in their backyard.

It’s not just Tolleson speaking out. Earlier today, The Cook’s Warehouse founder and CEO Mary Moore said of HB 757: “If this moves forward, it will be a huge step backwards for Atlanta…We will become a national poster child for discrimination.” And Michael Russell, owner of the real estate firm HJ Russell & Co, told the AJC: “At the end of the day, I’m very concerned about the message it sends: the leaders of this state are not providing a positive climate of inclusion.”

Freedom for All Americans Executive Director Matt McTighe said this week:

“Passing discriminatory bills like this have immediate consequences, and we’re already seeing that play out in Georgia. Georgia lawmakers who support this License to Discriminate are gambling with the economic growth Georgia has experienced in recent years. They’re choosing discrimination over the economic well-being of Georgia’s entrepreneurs and the hardworking people who make so many businesses across the state run and succeed.”

The Georgia legislature is considering more than a half-dozen harmful, anti-LGBT bills this session. Freedom for All Americans is proud to work with our local and national partners through the Georgia Unites Against Discrimination coalition to defeat these attempts to roll back LGBT protections and push forward on LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination.

[fbcomments url=""]