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Backlash rises over faith-based bill
Corporations urge Gov. Deal to veto legislation
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A faith-based bill that won approval in the state House and Senate and is now awaiting the governor's signature is receiving a corporate backlash from opponents who say the legislation is discriminatory against same-sex couples.

The Free Exercise Protection Act was written to protect clergy and religious institutions from being forced to perform or engage in ceremonies that violate their fundamental beliefs.

Proponents say it strikes a balance between protecting First Amendment rights "while at the same time welcoming all to Georgia without fear of discrimination," according to a summary of the bill prepared by Republican leaders.

Rep. Kevin Tanner of Dawsonville, who sponsored HB 757 in the House where it passed overwhelmingly, said the legislation makes it clear that Georgia respects and honors the sacred oaths taken by clergy and shows that government has no intention of asking them to violate those oaths.

"It allows individual and faith-based organizations protections to not have to violate their faith and at the same time it does not allow overt discrimination," he said. "It also protects religions non-profits from having to provide their services for events or individuals that they feel violate their faith."

There has been corporate criticism against the bill, from Coca Cola, Apple and Delta Airlines to the National Football League and the state's burgeoning movie industry.

The bill would also give religious organizations clearance to deny employment to "any person whose religious beliefs or practices" that do not fall in line with the faith-based organization.

Apple, which employs more than 44,000 workers in Georgia, is also urging Deal to veto the measure.

"Our store and our company are open to everyone, regardless of where they come from, what they look like, how they worship or who they love. We urge Gov. Deal to veto the discriminatory legislation headed to his desk and send a clear message that Georgia's future is one of inclusion, diversity and continued prosperity," the statement read.

Atlanta is in the running to host the Super Bowl in 2019 or 2020.

In a statement released last week, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy indicated passage of the bill could eliminate the state from contention.

"NFL policies emphasize tolerance and inclusiveness, and prohibit discrimination based on age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other improper standard," he said. "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."

Falcons owner Arthur Blank also issued a statement opposing the bill.

"I strongly believe a diverse, inclusive and welcoming Georgia is critical to our citizens and the millions of visitors coming to enjoy all that our great state has to offer," he said. "House Bill 757 undermines these principles and would have long-lasting negative impact on our state and the people of Georgia."

Deal last month said he would reject any bill that legalized discrimination. He has until May 3 to make his decision.