Business Casual: Don’t Mess This Up

Rumblings of a renewed religious liberty bill could affect the good things Georgia has going for it – including our $9.5-billion film industry.

Right at the top of the list of good things Georgia has going for it is a booming film and entertainment industry – worth about $9.5 billion a year.

The industry produces good jobs, it attracts tourists and it brings the right kind of attention to the state. It is a magnet for smart, creative people; it pays well; and it has a desirable ripple effect on other industries. It puts lots more into the economy and the community than it takes out. It benefits all of Georgia.

And it is here. The heavy lifting has already been done. The General Assembly passed a significant tax credit in 2008, and infrastructure and investment followed rapidly.

All that’s left to do is not mess things up.

What could possibly do that? Well, how about some so-called religious liberty legislation? You know, the kind that purports to create solutions for non-existent problems while trying to discriminate against segments of the population – typically the LGBTQ community.

Any serious consideration of such a bill could turn the film industry – and Georgia’s hefty profits – away pretty quickly.

In Georgia Trend’s January issue, 2019 Georgian of the Year Lee Thomas, head of the state film office, talked about the harm done to North Carolina’s movie industry almost overnight when that state passed its notorious bathroom bill and was left with literally millions of dollars in film incentives it couldn’t give away.

Soon after last fall’s election in Georgia, there were rumblings of religious liberty bills to be introduced during the legislative session.

My question to those who would support such a bill: Why do we need it?

Are there legions of bakers throughout the state unable to turn out cookies and cupcakes because of the gay couples lining up to order wedding cakes? Are photographers unable to take school pictures and family reunion pictures because so many same-sex ceremonies need their services?

It’s not as if ministers are being forced to officiate at ceremonies they do not approve of. Their right to refuse has been generally accepted for years and was confirmed last summer when the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case made it clear that clergy members cannot be compelled to perform same-sex marriages if doing so is against their religious convictions.

The harm frivolous and discriminatory religious freedom legislation can do is a concern to many Georgians, but especially to those in the film industry. Major studios, producers, money folks and individual well-known actors have let it be known they do not want to work or invest in a state that discriminates.

And haven’t we been down that road before? Georgia legislators passed an odious religious liberty measure in 2016, which former Gov. Nathan Deal wisely vetoed, making the point that Georgia is a welcoming state that does not need to discriminate against a group of its citizens in order to protect religions.

Prior to his inauguration, Gov. Brian Kemp was fairly quiet on the subject of the movie industry – although he did pledge to keep Georgia a business-friendly state.

Kemp said he would sign a religious freedom bill that mirrors the federal legislation passed in 1993, which had broad support from both parties and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton.

That federal law came in response to an outcry over a Supreme Court decision that upheld the denial of unemployment benefits to two Native Americans who were fired because they had used peyote in a religious ceremony.

The bill had an impressive roster of supporters, including Christian and Jewish organizations and the American Civil Liberties Union; but in 1997, the Supreme Court ruled that the law could not be applied to states, only to federal matters.

As states tried to implement their own laws – in Indiana in 2015, then-Gov. Mike Pence signed a doozy of a bill into law – the legislation often morphed into a weapon to allow discrimination.

As Georgia legislators are considering their votes on any sort of religious liberty bills, I hope they will keep in mind the harm they could do to the state’s economy and reputation. The movie industry in modern-day Georgia is not an arcane collection of champagne-swilling, feather-boa-wearing stereotypes. It encompasses a lot of hard-working folks who are raising families, taking their dogs to the vet, recycling their plastic and relying on the film industry’s strong presence to make a living.

Categories: Business Casual, Opinions