In the wake of their successful lobbying effort to defeat a controversial religious freedom bill in Georgia, Disney and several other like-minded companies are getting called out by a conservative organization called Texas Values for allegedly going to “war” on Christianity.
When Georgia’s legislature passed the Free Exercise Protection Act (H.B. 757), legislation that would have allowed local businesses to refuse to provide services to people whose lifestyles offended their religious sensibilities, an overwhelming number of voices from the world of business and entertainment converged to pressure Republican Gov. Nathan Deal to veto the bill, which he eventually did on Monday.
“It’s striking that the day after Easter, churches in Georgia are told their freedoms are not that important to protect. It’s clear that corporate giants like Apple, Disney, NCAA, Intel have finally come out of the closet and declared public war on the religious freedom of clergy and religious schools, as was the protection in Georgia’s very modest HB 757 that they worked to bring down,” wrote Texas Values president Jonathan Saenz in a statement this week.
He added later: “Will Disney now ban you from wearing a cross outside your shirt at their parks? Will a Catholic priest be forced to remove his white collar when he takes a picture with Mickey Mouse? This is how extreme the attacks now are on religious freedom, it’s a zero tolerance policy for religious freedom.”
MSNBC reached out to Disney for a reaction to Texas Values’ allegations, but has not heard back at this time.
“It’s just misleading for any organization to suggest HB 757, in its final form, had any purpose other than to advance discrimination against LGBT people. Religious freedom is protected under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and no one is trying to change that,” Dan Rafter, a spokesman for the gay rights organization Freedom For All Americans, told MSNBC on Thursday
Disney’s role in the effort was particularly significant, since many of the Marvel superhero films they produce are shot within Georgia’s borders (including the upcoming “Captain America: Civil War” and “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2”) and the company itself has a reputation of promoting traditional, and some would argue, conservative values in much of their creative output.
Still, Disney does have a fairly positive track record when it comes to issues of LGBT equality. They provided health benefits for the same-sex partners of employees way back in 1995, they have also hosted unofficial “Gay Days” celebrations at their theme parks for years, and the president of the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, George Kalogridis, is openly gay. Also, some critics have suggested that a number of their animated films, including “Frozen,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and “Aladdin,” all feature subtle nods to LGBT equality. Yet, in the 2012 election cycle for instance, Disney disproportionately made millions in donations (according to the Orlando Sentinel “90 cents of every dollar”) to Republican campaigns and causes. In contrast, however, Congressional Democrats got the bulk of Disney’s largess in 2014, according to OpenSecrets.org.
Meanwhile, the company’s late founder Walt Disney has become infamous for his far right, even reactionary politics (and rumors of anti-Semitic and racist proclivities). The cultural insensitivity of earlier Disney films (which included homophobic portrayals of cartoon characters) is well documented. And yet the company has come a long way in recent decades, as evidenced by their vocal role in opposing anti-gay legislation.
“Disney is one of the hundreds of companies that recognized HB 757 would hurt LGBT Georgians and many others. Religious freedom is just as protected under the law today as it was yesterday, last month and last year. It’s not under attack,” said Rafter. ”What HB 757 would have done, however, is expose the hundreds of thousands of LGBT Georgians — who already lack any statewide nondiscrimination protections — to even more harm.”