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Businesses largely oppose ‘religious liberties’ bill

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – With the contested passage of SJR 39 out of the Senate last week after 40 hours of a Democratic filibuster and a previous question, most eyes have turned to the House where the measure is expected to be passed much quicker than it was in the Senate. The resolution, a proposed constitutional amendment, still has a long way before it reaches the ballot, but it has already sharply divided the state into two parts.

The amendment would allow vendors and businesses to decline the use of their services for same-sex weddings contingent on their own deeply-held religious beliefs. Conservatives, including sponsor Sen. Bob Onder, believe it guarantees and protects First Amendment freedom of religious rights, while more liberal and progressive opponents believe it serves as a state endorsement to discrimination against the LGBT community.

While businesses and business groups usually side with Republicans on most measures, some of Missouri’s largest employers and business groups have publicly come out to oppose the legislation.

“As we saw in the reaction to the signing of the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act last year, laws that allow those engaged in public commerce to discriminate will hurt our economy and our image as a welcoming state,” said Hart Nelson, vice president of public policy for the St. Louis Regional Chamber of Commerce. “While we understand the desire to protect clergy and religious institutions from having to perform ceremonies counter to their beliefs, expanding protections to individuals and private businesses that voluntarily enter the stream of public commerce sends the message to the rest of the country that Missouri condones discrimination.”

Nelson added the commonly cited statistic that when Indiana passed a similar law last year, the city of Indianapolis lost around $60 million in revenue.

Major employers in the state, Dow Chemical, which has two chemical plants in the St. Louis area, and Monsanto, which is headquartered in St. Louis, tweeted their own opposition to the resolution during the filibuster last week.

The Kansas City Star also reported that Kansas City Manager Troy Schulte also noted that the NCAA and the Big 12 Athletic Conference had voiced their concerns about the impact of the legislation to city officials.

During the filibuster, Sen. Jill Schupp also listed off dozens of small businesses across the state that had officially opposed SJR 39.

Charlie Hinderliter, who works for the St. Louis Regional Chamber, noted that further opinion he had heard from business leaders in the area was just as one-sided.

“There are some that are opposed, some that don’t want to weigh in, but I haven’t heard anyone that’s in favor of it,” Hinderliter said. However, he added that some groups and companies were still taking their time to decide on the bill given the resolution seems to have moved through the process relatively quickly. “It usually takes longer than three weeks to make a decision.”

On the other hand, Republican gubernatorial candidates have been on the other side of the issue. Both former Speaker Catherine Hanaway and Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder decried Democratic opposition as “political correctness” as a threat to religious values.

“I commend those Republican State Senators who stood up for all Missourians’ First Amendment rights,” Hanaway said in a statement last week. “Missourians’ religious liberties should not be sacrificed on the altar of political correctness. Today is a step in the right direction for protecting every Missourian’s freedom of religion.”

“I don’t believe in discrimination but declining to participate in same-sex marriage ceremonies is neither discrimination nor a hate crime,” Kinder said as a guest on the Dana Show with Dana Loesch last Wednesday. “This totalitarian agenda seeks to compel conformity of citizens to fall into line with politically correct thought police… Political correctness is ruining this country and we must stand up against it.”