• Leaders say religious freedom bill could cost Atlanta

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    ATLANTA - High-powered business leaders are weighing in on Georgia’s fight over religious freedom as the so-called First Amendment Defense Act awaits action in the House. 

    “I do believe it presents challenges with how people perceive the openness of our state,” said H.J. Russell CEO Michael Russell.

    The bill allows faith based organizations to refuse service to gay couples and not risk penalties from the government. Russell, whose company is one of the largest minority owned real estate firms in the U.S., says while he's not getting into the politics of the bill, he's worried about perceptions.

    “It has as much to do with perceptions as it has to do with reality. I think we've seen from other states, particularly the state of Indiana, the impact it had on that state,” he said.

    Indiana's fight over religious freedom played out on a national stage. Thousands protested, businesses and major sporting events threatened boycotts until the governor there changed the law. 

    “It's about equal protection under the law for people of faith,” State Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus) said.

    McKoon is a staunch supporter of FAFA and other religious freedom bills.

    He says this is not about discrimination -- rather equal protection.

    “We are doing something here that is very even-handed, that is not going to lead to any discrimination of the law whatsoever, it's simply going to keep government out of the lives of people of faith,” McKoon said.

    Seven time NBA All Star Grant Hill, who is now co-owner and vice president of the Atlanta Hawks, says the bill could affect Atlanta’s chances of landing the big sporting events, like the Super Bowl and the Final Four.

    "It is so important to keep alive the values of good sportsmanship, fairness and inclusion that were ingrained in me as an athlete. It is critical, now more than ever, that our state supports diversity and inclusion in the workplace,” Hill said in a statement.

    Although the bill has passed the Senate, Gov. Nathan Deal said this week that it’s not the final version and the battle is far from over.

    “I’m hopeful that our leaders will continue to look at the bill and come up with way to make sure it doesn't have negative consequences,” Russell said.

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