Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal is facing mounting pressure from Hollywood heavyweights to veto a religious liberty bill that critics describe as anti-gay, with some threatening a boycott that could cost the state billions in business and thousands of jobs.
In the past week, nearly three-dozen actors, directors and studio companies have threated to pull out of lucrative projects in Georgia -- a popular filming location dubbed the “Hollywood of the South” -- if Deal signs the bill. The Republican governor has until May 3 to decide whether to do so.
“I’ll try to act as expeditiously as possible, especially on major pieces of legislation. We don’t have a time frame,” Deal told the Atlanta Journal Constitution Thursday night, referring to the measure.
The bill would allow faith-based organizations to deny services to those who violate their “sincerely held” religious beliefs. It also would let employers retain the right to fire employees not aligned with those beliefs.
Supporters like Mike Griffin, a pastor and communications representative of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, say the bill protects religious viewpoints and in turn prevents discrimination against faith-based groups. Griffin told FoxNews.com he believes threats to pull profits from the state are “nothing but fear mongering.”
Critics, though, claim the bill legalizes discrimination and would hurt Georgia’s reputation.
Similar efforts in Indiana and Arkansas also ignited battles over the past year but a movie boycott in Georgia could have a disastrous economic fallout. The Peach State ranks third behind California and New York in terms of its entertainment industry.
On Thursday, director Aaron Sorkin, Anne Hathaway and Seth MacFarlane were among the celebrities who added their names to a lengthy list of power hitters in a letter released by the Human Rights Campaign.
“We have deep concerns about H.B. 757,” they wrote in a letter to the governor, referring to the Free Exercise Protection Act. “We pride ourselves on running inclusive companies, and while we have enjoyed a positive partnership on productions in Georgia, we will plan to take our business elsewhere if any legislation sanctioning discriminations is signed into state law.”
Disney and Marvel were the first movie studios to come out against the bill. GM, Sony, Lionsgate and 21st Century Fox, parent company of FoxNews.com, also have spoken out against the bill.
The Weinstein Company said if the legislation is signed, they will pull an upcoming project.
“We have plans in place to begin filming Lee Daniels’ new film in Georgia later this year, but will move the production if this unlawful bill in enacted,” the company said in a written statement. “We hope Governor Deal will veto bill HB 757 and not allow sanctioned bigotry to become law in Georgia.”
Last year, Georgia reported $1.7 billion in in-state spending on film and television productions. Nearly 250 film and television pilots, series and commercials were also shot in 2015. According to the Georgia Department of Economic Development, those projects brought in more than $6 billion from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015.
The National Football League also piled on, hinting Atlanta could be out of the running to host one of three upcoming Super Bowls.
“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 the many factors NFL owners may use to evaluate potential Super Bowl host sites.”
On Thursday, the National Basketball Association slammed neighboring state North Carolina for passing its own bill addressing sexual identity discrimination, saying it might affect Charlotte’s chances of hosting the 2017 All-Star Game. The measure, among other things, undid a Charlotte ordinance allowing transgender people to use restrooms fitting with their gender identity.
But not everyone is against the Georgia bill.
The Faith and Freedom Coalition reportedly launched robo calls asking people to call Deal’s office in support of the bill.
And state Sen. John McKoon, one of the bill’s most outspoken supporters, told The Atlanta Journal Constitution if Deal doesn’t sign the bill, he will bring up similar versions in upcoming sessions.
Multiple calls to Deal’s office for comment were not returned.