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‘We have deep concerns’: Hollywood stars threaten Georgia over religious liberty bill

Religious freedom proposals are being weighed in nearly a dozen states after the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage. (Video: Claritza Jimenez/The Washington Post, Photo: David Goldman/The Washington Post)

Nearly three-dozen actors, directors, writers and producers said in a letter addressed to Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R) on Thursday that the state would lose their business if he signs a religious liberty bill into law.

The letter’s 34 signatories include Kristin Chenoweth, Lee Daniels, Anne Hathaway, Seth MacFarlane, Julianne Moore, Rob Reiner, Aaron Sorkin, Marisa Tomei, Gus Van Sant and Harvey Weinstein.

“We have deep concerns about H.B. 757,” they write, describing the Free Exercise Protection Act as anti-gay. “… 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 discrimination is signed into state law.”

Proponents say the bill, which passed the state legislature last week, merely protects religious expression. It would defend religious leaders from being forced to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies and protect individuals from being forced to attend such events. It also allows faith-based organizations to deny use of their facilities for events they find “objectionable” and exempts them from having to hire or retain an employee whose religious beliefs or practices differ from those of the organization.

The Thursday letter, facilitated by the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign, is the latest volley in a nationwide effort to defeat the bill by economic threat.

A day earlier, Disney and its studio subsidiary Marvel issued a similar threat.

Disney and Marvel fire warning shot as Georgia’s culture war spreads to Hollywood

“Disney and Marvel are inclusive companies, and although we have had great experiences filming in Georgia, we will plan to take our business elsewhere should any legislation allowing discriminatory practices be signed into state law,” the Walt Disney Co. said in a statement, which was issued just days after Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin called on Hollywood leaders to wield their influence to defeat the bill.

Chad Griffin, head of the gay rights organization Human Rights Campaign, urged Hollywood to abandon productions in the state of Georgia if the Free Exercise Protection Act, which some people say is anti-gay, becomes a law. (Video: Human Rights Campaign)

Time Warner — parent company to HBO, Warner Bros. and Atlanta-based CNN — urged Deal to veto the bill in its own Thursday statement.

AMC Networks, which films its hit show “The Walking Dead” in Georgia, reportedly said the same.

Film production is big business in the state, whose capital Atlanta is known as the “Hollywood of the South.”

One 2014 study of 106 feature films found that Georgia was home to more film production than every state except California and New York. The state itself reported $1.7 billion in in-state spending on film and television productions in the 2015 fiscal year.

Georgia has served as home to the recent movies “Ant-Man,” “Captain America: Civil War,” “Lila & Eve,” “Vacation,” “A Walk in the Woods,” “Goosebumps” and “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2,” according to the Georgia Department of Economic Development.

Production of “Ant-Man” helped to employ 3,579 Georgians and generated more than $106 million in in-state spending, the department reported. “Ant-Man” and “Captain America: Civil War” are Marvel movies.

The nation's largest LGBT rights organization has called on Hollywood to threaten to cease work in the state if the bill becomes law. (Video: WFXG-TV Augusta, FOX 54)

Hollywood is far from the only industry to oppose the measure.

The National Football League last week suggested the bill’s passage could jeopardize Atlanta’s Super Bowl bid, and several sports teams joined the league in weighing in on the bill. At least 20 Fortune 500 companies — including Delta Air Lines, Google, Home Depot, IBM, Marriott, Microsoft, Nordstrom, Coca-Cola, Dow Chemical, UPS and Verizon — belong to a “Georgia Prospers,” a coalition urging the bill’s veto. The coalition has several hundred corporate members.

Proponents of the measure say it merely defends religious rights.

“All Georgia citizens, organizations and businesses need protection from adverse legislation that would infringe upon their religious beliefs regarding marriage, defined in the Bible as the union of one man and one woman,” J. Robert White, executive director of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, said in a statement last month, urging passage of an earlier version of the measure.

Deal has walked a careful line in his public statements on the bill. He opposed an earlier version and vowed to veto any measure that legalized discrimination, but then said he was “pleasantly surprised” by the compromise that led to the bill’s passage last week, according to local reports.

“I have heard from both sides, and I’m sure I’ll continue to hear from both sides,” he said, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I will take their opinions into consideration, and I’ll do what I’m required to do, which is to make the difficult decision on a very difficult subject.”

He plans to make his decision next month, according to the paper.

The full text of the letter follows.

Dear Gov. Deal,

As leaders in the entertainment industry, we have deep concerns about H.B. 757, which would sanction discrimination against LGBT people and others in Georgia.

As you know, Atlanta is often referred to as the Hollywood of the South. During the last fiscal year, at least 248 films and television productions were shot in Georgia, adding at least $1.7 billion in direct spending to the state’s economy. Additionally, the entertainment industry helped to bring more than 100 businesses to Georgia through relocation or expansion in the past fiscal year. Only two states — California and New York — have a larger entertainment industry footprint and both have statewide non-discrimination protections on the books. Unfortunately, Georgia not only lacks such protections, but could soon move from a bad situation to worse with H.B. 757.

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 discrimination is signed into state law.

We urge you to veto H.B. 757 and send a strong message that Georgia will not tolerate discrimination against citizens, employees and visitors to the state.

Thank you in advance for your consideration of this urgent issue.

Ali Adler, Writer and Producer
Greg Berlanti, Writer and Producer
Matt Bomer, Actor, and Simon Halls, Publicist
Dustin Lance Black, Screenwriter and Filmmaker
Bradley Bredeweg, Executive Producer and Showrunner
Kristin Chenoweth, Actress and Singer
Diablo Cody, Writer, Producer and Director
Bruce Cohen, Producer
Lee Daniels, Producer and Director
Dana Fox, Writer and Producer
John Goldwyn, Producer
James Gunn, Writer and Director
Anne Hathaway, Actress
Alan Hergott, Entertainment Attorney
Nina Jacobson, Producer
Dan Jinks, Producer
Kathy Kennedy, Producer
Zoe Kravitz, Actress
Bryan Lourd, Talent Agent
Seth MacFarlane, Producer and Filmmaker
Laurence Mark, Producer
Frank Marshall, Producer and Director
Neil Meron, Producer
Julianne Moore, Actress
Ryan Murphy, Producer
Peter Paige, Executive Producer and Showrunner
Rob Reiner, Actor, Director and Producer
Sarah Schechter, Producer
Adam Shankman, Director and Producer
Aaron Sorkin, Screenwriter and Producer
Marisa Tomei, Actress
Gus Van Sant, Producer and Director
Harvey Weinstein, Producer and Film Studio Executive
Craig Zadan, Producer and Director