NFL Says Religious Freedom Bill Could Cost Atlanta The Super Bowl

Philip DeVoe Contributor
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NFL officials say Georgia’s religious freedom bill, passed by the state legislature and awaiting a signature from Gov. Nathan Deal, could put in jeopardy Atlanta’s bid to host the Super Bowl in upcoming years.

Atlanta has been regarded as a strong favorite for future Super Bowls, especially since the NFL encouraged the city to build a new stadium to replace the out-of-date Georgia Dome after Atlanta lost subsequent bids to host the game. Since the new stadium, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, has been announced, it has been selected to host the 2018 college football championship game and the 2020 NCAA Final Four.

This bill, similar to Indiana’s 2015 religious freedom bill, could, however, end Atlanta’s hopes to see the Super Bowl at least one more time, according to NFL officials.

“NFL policies emphasize tolerance and inclusiveness, and prohibit discrimination based on age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other improper standard,” league spokesman Brian McCarthy said in a weekend statement, according to CBS News. “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.”

House Bill 757, the Georgia religious freedom bill, protects religious officials from performing marriage ceremonies “in violation of their legal right to free exercise of religion” and “protect[s] property owners which are religious institutions against infringement of religious freedom.”

On March 20, the Human Rights Campaign urged entertainment leaders in Hollywood to stop filming in Georgia because of the bill.

“But if this bill is signed into law, your employees, your contractors — all those working on your production are at risk of state-sanctioned discrimination,” Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said. “That is wrong. It’s un-American. It’s an affront on all the values Hollywood prides itself on. And you have the influence and the opportunity to not only defeat this bill, but to send a message that there are consequences to passing dangerous and hateful laws like this.”

Georgia offers significant tax incentives, drawing a large number of film and television crews to the state. In 2015 alone, at least 248 shows or movies were filmed in Georgia, resulting in $1.7 billion of revenue brought to the state.

Arthur Blank, owner of the Atlanta Falcons, said last week he opposes the bill, joining the Atlanta Hawks and the Atlanta Braves, saying he believes the bill would have a long-lasting negative impact on the state.

Gov. Deal has until May 3 to sign or veto the bill and NFL team owners vote on the Super Bowl game locations for 2019-2021 on May 23.