Group vows to move conference elsewhere if ‘religious liberty’ passes

An academic group vowed Friday to move its conference out of Atlanta and take its $650,000 investment elsewhere if Georgia passes a “religious liberty” bill that allows for discrimination.

Barbara Risman, president of the Southern Sociological Society, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the organization has held its conference in Atlanta every three years for more than 50 years.

But, if House Bill 757 becomes law, their 1,200 members will go somewhere else.

“This bill authorizes discrimination against sexual minorities and as such we find the bill morally objectionable and socially destructive,” Risman said. “Discrimination is in direct conflict with the principles of our organization and will prevent us from doing business in the State of Georgia.”

The Senate last week passed HB 757, against the wishes of the powerful Metro Atlanta Chamber, which went on record opposing the vote, as did the Georgia Hotel & Lodging Association, Hilton Worldwide, Marriott and InterContinental Hotels Group, all of whom said the bill would have a chilling effect on Georgia’s reputation for both business and tourism.

HB 757 would enable faith-based organizations and individuals to opt out of serving couples — gay, straight or unmarried — or following anti-discrimination requirements if they cite a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction regarding marriage.

The Society’s decision comes as other organizations and businesses are threatening to abandon Georgia if HB 757 passes. The CEO of Salesforce, a major tech company, told analysts he might move his Georgia operations should the bill become law.

But Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, a major supporter of religious liberty bills, scoffed at Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff’s comments.

“It’s important to note that Salesforce does business in Singapore and India,” McKoon said Friday on the floor of the Senate. “The laws of Singapore and India are that they make homosexuality a crime punishable by imprisonment. It appears he has absolutely no problem doing business in and making money from countries where homosexuality is a crime.”

It’s too late for the Southern Sociological Society to cancel this year’s meeting in April, which features four days of meetings at the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead, Risman said. But, she said, if HB 757 passes, the 2020 conference will be somewhere else.

“We will come in April, although I cannot promise all our members will come,” she said. “Some feel so strongly about it they themselves will boycott. It is too close for me to change our organizational decision.”

It would be a shame, she said, if her organization, made up of sociologists, social policy analysts and university professors, had to move.

“Our members love to come to Atlanta,” she said. “We get a big turnout. It’s been a great place for us to get together.”

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