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More than 100 state legislators issue letter to business executives over opposition to religious liberty bills

Letter addressed to heads of Disney, Marvel, NFL, NCCA, Big 12

April 18th, 2016 / By: Bonnie Pritchett | TEXAN Correspondent / comments

More than 100 state legislators issue letter to business executives over opposition to religious liberty bills

AUSTIN— Texas Rep. Scott Sanford is not the only state legislator frustrated by the willful lack of understanding by business executives concerning legislation like Georgia’s religious liberty bill. More than 100 of his peers in state houses across the nation have signed a letter Sanford, R-McKinney, authored pushing back against executives’ threats of economic repercussions that one state senator called nothing less than “economic extortion.”

In recent months big corporations have warned legislators and governors they will withdraw their businesses from states that pass legislation giving protections to pastors, churches, ministries, and business owners who decline services for same-sex weddings. Doubtful the heads of Disney and Marvel Studios or the commissioners of the NFL, NCCA, or Big 12 will ever read the letter he drafted last week, Sanford could not let the false accusations of bigotry and discrimination go unanswered.

“The businesses are being reactionary to a very loud voice … without thoroughly vetting their responses,” Sanford told the TEXAN, referring to “anti-gay discrimination” charges leveled against Christians by LGBTQ advocacy groups and the media. “What is frustrating is the lack of effort to understand,” he said.

Sanford hopes to enlighten NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby, NCAA CEO Mark Emmert, Marvel CEO Isaac Perlmutter and Disney CEO Robert Iger about the need for laws that protect citizens’ right to act as their consciences dictate. The Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation circulated the letters for signatures.

In the letter, Sanford noted Goodell and the other addressees were late to the game when it came to their sudden disdain for states’ attempts to pass religious freedom and restoration acts (RFRA).

“If you were to remove your events and other economic activities from every state that already has significant religious liberty legislation or state court decisions with the same effect, you will find yourselves operating in an increasingly shrinking pool of states,” the letter reads. “As of now, 32 states contain these, and others are in the process of adoption.”

Signers represent Texas, Kansas, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Tennessee, Maine, Virginia, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Iowa, Florida and South Carolina.

Sanford and other state legislators who spoke with the TEXAN said there is no indication that any of the corporate leaders have read the bills they criticize much less contacted legislators with their concerns. That puts the business executives “into a position of condoning and promoting government use of the force of law against people of faith in America,” the letter said.

Colorado State Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, called the letter “responsible and balanced,” a far cry from the attacks by executives like Goodell who in March warned Georgia could lose its Super Bowl bid if Gov. Nathan Deal signed the Free Exercise Protection Act.

“I see those businesses trying to extort the people of Georgia out of a law that was duly passed,” Lundberg said. “They are taking a very radical perspective of how public policy is constructed,” Lundberg said.

In Texas, Rep. Matt Krause, R-Ft. Worth called out Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and the Texas Association of Business (TAB) for their opposition to legislation drafted last year that would have provided legal protections for business owners and faith-based ministries. Krause said he was unaware of any attempts by Cuban or TAB representatives to contact legislators with their concerns about the legislation.

“They were speaking up via press release,” he said. “That’s not a conversation.”

Pennsylvania Rep. Rick Saccone, R-ElizabethTownship, hopes the letter will counter the media mantra labeling religious liberty legislation as discriminatory. Too many of his constituents believe the laws are “anti-gay” and Christians, he said, are especially sensitive to accusations of discrimination.

But when they learn of the wedding service providers forced out of business because of their religious convictions, they are shocked, Saccone said.

Sanford said the best he can hope for is to start a conversation with his detractors. Doubtful that will happen, he added, “If they would just stay neutral, that would be great.”

Read the letter here.