The NFL, Georgia’s religious-liberty bill and the facts

Will the new Falcons stadium play host to a Super Bowl? Does that depend on whether HB 757 becomes law? Will the NFL acknowledge its hypocrisy on the issue? (AJC Photo / Hyosub Shin)

Will the new Falcons stadium play host to a Super Bowl? Does that depend on whether HB 757 becomes law? Will the NFL acknowledge its hypocrisy on the issue? (AJC Photo / Hyosub Shin)

The NFL has issued a thinly veiled threat not to award a Super Bowl to Atlanta if Gov. Nathan Deal signs the religious-liberty bill that legislators adopted last week. This possibility, to which the bill’s opponents have pointed as the kind of damage it would do to Georgia’s economy, is instead a perfect example of how debate surrounding the bill has devolved into misinformation, posturing and hypocrisy.

Why? Because the two states that are home to the other cities competing against Atlanta for the 2019 and 2020 games, Florida and Louisiana, already have pretty much the same laws Georgia is considering.

Neither Florida nor Louisiana has attempted to force pastors to perform marriages to which they object, to force religious institutions to rent their property for events to which they object, or to force businesses to be open on days their owners consider to be days of rest — the least controversial parts of Georgia’s House Bill 757.

Neither of those states has attempted to allow religious exceptions to employment law beyond what federal law already allows — and nor does Georgia, since HB 757 specifically says it does not supersede “the Constitution of this state or the United States or federal law” on the matter.

Both Florida and Louisiana have adopted the language from the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which HB 757 includes. Unlike HB 757, neither Florida’s RFRA nor Louisiana’s includes a provision acknowledging it does not override federal and state anti-discrimination laws.

Like Atlanta, the Super Bowl-finalist cities of Miami, New Orleans and Tampa have local ordinances prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Like Georgia, Florida’s and Louisiana’s RFRAs are silent on the matter of local non-discrimination ordinances. Although some of HB 757’s critics claim its silence will lead to a court challenge to Atlanta’s ordinance, that has not happened in those other cities. There is no reason to think, based on the judicial history of other states, that a challenge to Atlanta’s ordinance would be successful.

Like Georgia, neither Florida nor Louisiana recognizes LGBT individuals as a protected class. So the claim that RFRAs in other states aren’t comparable because they are accompanied by civil-rights protections just isn’t true in those cases. Like Georgia, Florida and Louisiana have no LGBT anti-discrimination laws regarding employment, housing or public accommodations. Nor does either of those states have an LGBT anti-discrimination law regarding adoption.

For that matter, neither does the state in which next year’s Super Bowl will be held, Texas. What’s more, voters in that host city, Houston, last year repealed the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance in a campaign that famously was fueled in large part by the slogan “No men in women’s bathrooms.” How did the NFL respond to that controversy? It said it would keep the 2017 game there anyway.

In fact, the history of the Super Bowl since 1997 — when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the federal RFRA did not apply to state and local governments — shows the vast majority of the games have been played in (or awarded to, in the case of the 2017 and 2018 games) states with similar laws on the questions of religious liberty and LGBT rights:

  • Fourteen out of the 21 were, or will be, played in states that by statute or court precedent use the “strict scrutiny” legal standard set by RFRA. The seven exceptions include the 2002 game in New Orleans, before Louisiana passed its RFRA, and the 2012 game in Indianapolis, before Indiana passed its RFRA.
  • Twelve of the 21 have no LGBT non-discrimination laws regarding employment; another four have laws affecting only public employees.
  • Sixteen of the 21 have no LGBT non-discrimination laws regarding housing.
  • Sixteen of the 21 have no LGBT non-discrimination laws regarding public accommodations.

The point here is not whether such non-discrimination laws are good or bad; as I’ve said repeatedly, I have no interest in perpetrating discrimination and instead would prefer something that accommodates both sides. The point is the NFL is being utterly hypocritical in taking this stand regarding Georgia when it has declined to do so in states with similar laws. So are any number of companies and trade associations suggesting they may move some operations or conventions out of Georgia if Deal signs HB 757.

If it’s not discrimination in those states, why is it suddenly discrimination in Georgia? Don’t tell me it matters when the law was passed. Words on a page mean the same thing no matter when they become law. If not, and if the context of current events changes their meaning, then why aren’t these businesses urging other states to repeal their laws? That context is now different in those places, too.

What we have here, on the whole, is a rush to judgment by multibillion-dollar businesses that ought to know the value of letting emotions subside and facts come to light before making such decisions. That they aren’t doing so is a shame.

 

Reader Comments 0

86 comments
Timhabeger
Timhabeger

"...why is it suddenly discrimination in Georgia?" Because the groundswell of opinion has made it so. Why us and not them? We are truly a battleground state. And because Georgia, in the world's mind, has asked for it. Our past and our lingering reputation stick easily in the liberal craw, and regardless of what you or anyone thinks is fair, they ARE now making this a big deal. There is a real fight for the control of the Georgia as the capital of dixie versus a new battleground election swing state. I agree the NFL is "bullying" but I also believe that their advertisers will boycott in droves against HB 757 as an unnecessary "stance" conservative legislators are taking to voice outrage against gay marriage. 

HawkAtreides
HawkAtreides

The timing actually does matter. Prior to the Hobby Lobby decision, the only classes of entities considered covered under Federal RFRA law and the State laws that mirrored it were religious organizations (i.e., churches, charities, and the like) and individual citizens. The expansive reading given in the Hobby Lobby decision extended the definition of "person" to "closely-held" for-profit entities, even though they had to invent a new definition of "exercise of religion" not in line with a clear reading to claim that a corporation could meaningfully engage in substantive "exercise of religion".


State RFRA laws passed before Hobby Lobby did not, at the time, override non-discrimination ordinances violated by for-profit entities whose activities were neither wholly nor primarily religious in nature - that meaning has been read into them now by extension from the Supreme Court's decision - whereas those passed after Hobby Lobby are done with the full knowledge (though often denied by scurrilous actors like Mr. McKoon) that the bill will now allow landlords of non-religious buildings to evict (or refuse to rent/sell to) LGBT tenants, employers to fire (or refuse to hire) LGBT applicants, and non-religious businesses to refuse service to LGBT customers, even in cities where such action was not allowed before by local law. The timing IS meaningful here, and at the time that - for example - the Florida RFRA was passed (1998, which means that the bill, if it were human, would be old enough to vote!), such discriminatory actions were not possible as the Supreme Court had not yet heard Hobby Lobby's reasoning why their mistaken belief that an IUD is an abortifacient should allow them to redirect the responsibility for coverage to another party as if they were a convent.

KINGSEAL
KINGSEAL

Governor Deal needs to veto the bill and do it next year.

ExAtlantan
ExAtlantan

Thank you for this informative article.  I do not see bias in it, just a recounting of what has happened here and elsewhere.

idnov
idnov

@kwingfieldajc Call their bluff Wingnut! Bye Bye Disney, NFL, NCAA BB & FB, tons of Tourism & Convention Biz. Business re-locations

ReidDA
ReidDA

@kwingfieldajc those are the people it applies to. Not the laws it applies to see section 5.

kwingfieldajc
kwingfieldajc

@ReidDA In Abbott v. City of Fort Lauderdale, FL FRFA was used to overturn local ordinance on feeding homeless. 1/2

kwingfieldajc
kwingfieldajc

@ReidDA But I'm unaware of any court citing state RFRA to overturn local non-discrim ord, and I would expect GA to be no different. 2/2

ReidDA
ReidDA

@kwingfieldajc hands on originals in Lexington. Ordinance wasn't invalidated but RFRA was accepted as defense.

kwingfieldajc
kwingfieldajc

@ReidDA AFAIK that case isn't over, and in any case there was also a free-speech element to it.

ReidDA
ReidDA

@kwingfieldajc Correct on both accounts but it was accepted and that is the latest status.

Atlantarama
Atlantarama

Why is it "suddenly" discrimination? Because of its timing.This bill is a flagrant attempt to counter the Supreme Court's decision on same-sex marriage, and is a similar action as when the Confederate flag was added to our state flag to protest the Supreme Court's ruling on desegregation.

Caius
Caius

It is usually perception, not facts, that is the driver.  The perception is that the bill is targeted. A preamble to the bill stating that the state will not "deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the law" probably would have helped.  But, again, it is perception that rules the day. And, I might add, interpretation.


jezel
jezel

Why has the legislature declared war on Atlanta ? Why is it that metro Atlanta is unable to control the legislature ? Are the rural counties not getting their fair share ? Someone give me some insight please.

BurroughstonBroch
BurroughstonBroch

Fantasy: Metro Atlanta legislators could control the Legislature.

Reality: Metro Atlanta legislators can agree on little besides the sun rises in the east.

Fantasy: City of Atlanta legislators attuned to LGBT opinion could control the Legislature.

Fact: The population of the City is only 4.4% of the State population and that percentage drops every Census.

Bottom Line: Don't hold your breath.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Kyle, I am sorry that the city you seem to love so much has been so horribly attacked.

Kickass
Kickass

Exactly. No one has really read the bill. It is all supposition. Now, what if Americans boycotted the sponsors of the NFL? I really doubt the Super Bowl brings in a Billion dollars in business.

Under-educated White Guy
Under-educated White Guy

TX is the 3rd, LA is the 5th, and GA is the 6th most racist state in the US.  Why any of these states full of back-woods hicks merits having a Super Bowl - ever - is beyond me.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Under-educated White Guy Because they give all these tax abatements and $10 M ticket tax rebates.


And then say there is no money for schools, health care, etc...

packman84
packman84

@Kickass I'm pretty sure judging others based on the color of their skin or their sexual preference is immoral.

Kickass
Kickass

@Under-educated White Guy You must be an Oglethorpe student. These states stand up for the MAJORITY and not the minority, who shove their imoral agenda down people's throats.

DavidATL45
DavidATL45

@Kickass @Under-educated White Guy Kickass - you pretty well demonstrated why so many people around the country don't trust any social legislation passed by the Georgia bigoted GOP Legislature.  The GOP want government to stay away from the account books of their businesses, but want it poking its nose into everyone's bedroom.  The Georgia Legislature has enabled murders in New City with guns easily bought and transported to that city.  The Georgia legislature has enabled children to kill themselves with their parents' guns that are not secured.  Who knows what horrors await us that have been enabled by the GOP legislators in Georgia?   There is no trusting them on anything and certainly not on this bill.

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

So all of a sudden our liberals believe a multi-billion dollar business is gonna forego their bottom line and do the "right" thing?

Our liberals remind me of flamingos lookin' to hook UP.

http://tinyurl.com/keyluwc

They're so confused!

schnirt

Under-educated White Guy
Under-educated White Guy

@FIGMO2  Another brilliant observation from one of GA's proud under-educated racists.  I'll bet you're a Trump supporter.

Eye wonder
Eye wonder

@FIGMO2 @Under-educated White Guy

Just give it some time, fIGS. When you are faced with the prospect of voting for Donald or Hillary, you'll remember your long and deep hatred of womankind and vote for Donald.

omark
omark

You were strongly advised not to step in the dog poop. Damned if you didn't do it anyway. 

ChristopherATL
ChristopherATL

So they are drawing the line with Georgia. The line needed to be drawn somewhere. Discrimination is wrong. Period.

packman84
packman84

@Kickass I don't understand how one could be forced to go to a wedding.  Kidnapping?  There's absolutely no logic to that statement.

Caius
Caius

@packman84 @Kickass The fringes do not go for logic. Gut reaction, knee jerk reaction, the opium of the true believer.

Kickass
Kickass

@ChristopherATL how about minorities stop shoving their immoral agenda down people's throats. Uncivil rights, right to force church going people to attend an immoral ceremony.. and the list goes on.

MarkVV
MarkVV

Kyle is trying to avoid and neutralize the timing argument (“Don’t tell me it matters when the law was passed.”), but timing is indeed an essential element in an issue like this. It matters a lot when the law was passed.

First, one should summarily dismiss all the arguments about the past Super Bowls, as well as about those already awarded. If the past actions should bar changes, progress would never be made in anything. The society changes, and such organization as NFL should change with it.

That leaves the issue of Florida and Louisiana. But again, the fact that those states “already have pretty much the same laws Georgia is considering” makes a crucial difference. An organization like NFL can use its influence, but must do it with the realistic view of the chance of success.  It would be unrealistic for NFL to expect that it could achieve a change of the already passed laws of Florida and Louisiana, while it is realistic that it can contribute to preventing what it considers an unjust law to pass in Georgia.

packman84
packman84

@MarkVV No law has passed.  A bill passed.  Nathan Deal can either approve it or veto it.  He decides whether it'll become law.

mar1049
mar1049

Don't care if they pass the bill or not. Georgia continues to look like a hick state. However back to sports in this city. Two news stadiums are being built for the forever loser sports teams. At least the braves did win a world series almost back in the civil war days. The falcons don't have a hope nor a prayer of ever making it to the Superbowl. At least the high school football teams will put the football stadium to good use.

packman84
packman84

@Kickass ...what?  The Superbowl would generate millions for local businesses.  Traffic may increase the one day the game would be here, just like any other day a game is played here.  How ignorant can you be?

Kickass
Kickass

@mar1049 don't need the stupid bowl. Just clogs up streets and causes businesses to lose money due to the traffic. Just like freaknik did.

jettison
jettison

@mar1049 What are you talking about? The Falcons made the Super Bowl in the 98/99 season - more recently than the Braves won the World Series.

Infraredguy
Infraredguy

This " do nothing bill " is just that a nothing piece of legislation, if passed, it will not be enforced unless some ambulance chasing lawyer digs up a case in 5 points. Every Liberal this side of Bernie Sanders is screaming about perceived discrimination that might happen while the Country burns down with 19,000,000,000,000 in debt and 90,000,000,000,000 in unfunded obligations  Go Figure  

packman84
packman84

@Infraredguy I agree that people are making ridiculous arguments (on both sides), but since this bill is so insignificant, don't you wish our legislature had focused all their time on efforts on real issues?

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@Infraredguy

19,000,000,000,000 in debt and 90,000,000,000,000 in unfunded obligations

scary numbers (the second one purely imaginary), oooh...