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Greg Bluestein

The love letters streaming into Nathan Deal’s office after ‘religious liberty’ veto

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Mar. 28, 2016 - Atlanta - Gov. Deal enters the press conference. Nathan Deal announced that he was vetoing religious liberty legislation at a news conference today in the ceremonial office. He did not answer questions. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

Gov. Nathan Deal enters a press conference announcing he will veto the “religious liberty” bill. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

Even as a stream of corporate behemoths publicly called for Gov. Nathan Deal to veto the “religious liberty” legislation and threatened boycotts if it became law, there was a studious silence from some of Georgia’s biggest firms.

But that changed in the final stretch before Deal’s Monday announcement that he would reject the bill. Documents obtained in an Open Records Act request showed two of Georgia’s biggest business giants weighed in on the measure.

Dietmar Exler, the new chief executive of Mercedes-Benz USA, wrote Deal on Monday before the veto that the legislation “troubles us greatly” and that the firm, which is building a new U.S. headquarters in Sandy Springs, opposes any form of discrimination.

“So, I am writing to you, Governor, to urge you to veto this legislation so that it is known that our new home state embraces all fellow citizens whether they be fans, guests or customers and is a welcoming environment for new people and ventures,” Exler wrote.

More: Casey Cagle: The ‘silent majority’ backs Georgia’s religious liberty bill

And Coca-Cola chief executive Muhtar Kent wrote hours after the veto with his support for Deal’s decision.

“Over the course of your six years in office you have demonstrated a clear commitment to the economic growth of Georgia and to building strong communities,” wrote Kent. “Your actions today affirm that our state will continue to provide a business-friendly environment that attracts a diverse workforce.”

Then there was a different type of love letter that streamed into the inbox of Chris Riley, Deal’s chief of staff, after Bill Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights outed his email address. He received dozens of notes from supporters of the legislation, which would have expanded legal protections for opponents of same-sex marriage.

Here’s a taste:


  

The bashing is equal opportunity. State Sen. Josh McKoon, one of the measure’s champions, sent along this email he received a few days ago:

“Listen you fat cracker……….you try and launch an all out legislative attack on gay people with that hate bill of yours…………..it get vetoed and you go on the tv and cry how you are being attacked?

“Jesus himself would kick you in the nutz.”

McKoon, who also receives a steady flow of vitriol on social media, had this to say:

“If we are having a contest over who receives the most hateful, profane and grotesque communications over HB 757, I win in a landslide thanks to the emails and tweets I’ve received from the ‘tolerant’ left.”