News (USA)

Business leaders oppose Missouri religious objections bill

Business leaders oppose Missouri religious objections bill
ST. LOUIS (AP) — Top executives from some of the St. Louis area’s largest companies said Friday that Missouri’s proposed religious freedom law could have a devastating impact on the state’s economy.

Leaders from Monsanto, MasterCard and dozens of other firms joined Gov. Jay Nixon to express opposition to the proposed constitutional amendment, which would create legal protections for religious business owners who refuse to provide services for same-sex weddings.

The bill survived a 37-hour filibuster by Senate Democrats, moving it to the Republican-controlled House. If approved by lawmakers, the proposal would bypass the Democratic governor and go to voters.

About 100 leaders of St. Louis-area firms, from tech startups to companies that employ thousands of people, gathered at the headquarters of the St. Louis Regional Chamber, which also opposes the measure, as does the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce. They say the bill would allow discrimination against gay and lesbian individuals in addition to damaging the economy.

“MasterCard condemns any legislation that has the potential to allow for discrimination in any form,” said Rob Reeg, president of MasterCard Technologies, which employs nearly 3,000 people in the St. Louis region. “We welcome, foster and embrace diversity and believe that it’s key to MasterCard’s success.”

The proposed ballot measure would amend the Missouri Constitution to prohibit government penalties for photographers, florists and other professionals who cite religious beliefs while declining to provide wedding-related services of “expressional or artistic creation” to same-sex couples.

Sen. Bob Onder, who sponsored the bill, did not immediately return a message from The Associated Press seeking comment about the business pushback on Friday. But earlier this week, the Republican from Lake St. Louis disputed claims that the measure could hurt business, saying the “religious liberties” of small businesses should be considered.

Nixon said Missouri faces tough competition in the business world. He said the resolution could drive away business and workers, as well as cause conventions and sporting events — such as the NCAA basketball regional currently underway in St. Louis — to go elsewhere. A religious objections law that passed last year in Indiana provoked uproar among business leaders and threats of boycotts.

“The bottom line is that this is not good for the economy of the state,” he said.

A House committee will consider the measure after lawmakers return from a weeklong break, Republican House Speaker Todd Richardson said earlier this week. No decisions have been made regarding possible amendments, Richardson said.

Kitty Radcliffe, president of the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission, said Friday that the uproar in Indiana over a similar measure damaged that state’s reputation.

She said the measure “is a negative impact we cannot afford to have,” as the city continues to restore its image following the protests and investigations in Ferguson sparked last year by the fatal police shooting of an unarmed black 18-year-old resident of the St. Louis suburb.

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