Missouri business group opposes religious objections measure

AP News
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Posted: Mar 17, 2016 5:19 PM

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A top Missouri business association on Thursday sided against a contested proposal to amend the state Constitution to create religious protections for photographers, florists and others objecting to gay marriage.

The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry's position marks growing pushback from businesses to the measure, which survived a 37-hour filibuster by Senate Democrats and now is pending in the state House.

The proposal would prohibit government penalties against businesses and employees who cite religious beliefs while declining to provide wedding-related services of "expressional or artistic creation" to same-sex couples. Businesses would be protected if they deny services for a wedding or a reception that happens around the time of the wedding.

The religious protections would also apply to clergy and religious organizations.

Democrats and other opponents argue it would allow discrimination against gay people and say it could hurt the state economy.

A more general religious objections law that passed last year in Indiana provoked national uproar and threats of boycotts.

"You can't ignore the economic backlash that has occurred in other states considering this type of legislation," Missouri Chamber President and CEO Dan Mehan said in a statement. "We do not want that in Missouri."

He added that the association opposes "providing constitutional protections to employees who refuse to do their jobs."

Republican sponsor Sen. Bob Onder, of Lake St. Louis, said the Missouri Chamber appears to be responding to concerns raised by major employers such as St. Louis agricultural giant Monsanto and MasterCard, which employs nearly 3,000 people in Missouri. Onder said the "religious liberties" of small businesses also should be considered.

The National Federation of Independent Business has taken no position on the measure and state director Brad Jones said no businesses have contacted the group to give feedback.

Onder also disputed claims that the measure could hurt business and repeated his unwillingness to drop provisions on businesses from the proposal, as the Missouri Chamber has suggested.

"They seem to be making this general claim that somehow SJR 39 would be bad for the Missouri economy," Onder said. "They're making that statement without any proof at all."

Republican House Speaker Todd Richardson said the proposal will be sent to a House committee for review after lawmakers return from a weeklong break and said no decisions have been made regarding possible amendments.

"Religious liberty is an important principle, and we want to get that principle right," he said Thursday. "We understand this is going to be an issue that's going to cause intense feelings on both sides of the issue. So the House will take a hard look at it when we get back."

Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon and leaders from the St. Louis Regional Chamber are to speak in opposition to the proposal Friday in St. Louis.

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Religious objections measure is SJR 39.

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Online:

Missouri Senate: http://senate.mo.gov

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Associated Press writer Adam Aton contributed to this report. Follow Summer Ballentine at https://twitter.com/esballentine