Executives with more than a dozen St. Louis area companies signed on to a letter this week asking Missouri lawmakers to change the controversial “religious freedom” bill to ensure it doesn’t do damage to the state’s economy.
The bill in question would amend the state’s constitution to offer protections to certain individuals and businesses who cite religious beliefs to refuse service to same-sex couples.
Proponents argue its purpose is to prevent those with sincerely held religious beliefs from being punished by government. Critics say it enshrines anti-gay discrimination in Missouri’s constitution.
The group of corporate executives said that while they 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.”
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Among the executives signing the letter were Warner Baxter of Ameren, John Sondag of AT&T Missouri, Larry Ryan of Dow Chemical, James Weddle of Edward Jones, Sam Fox of Harbor Group, Rob Reeg of MasterCard and Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey.
The executives are requesting that the bill be amended to remove any provisions that pertain to private industry. The letter was sent to Rep. Elijah Haahr, a Springfield Republican and chairman of the House Emerging Issues Committee.
The group joins the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which spoke out against the legislation last month. The Kansas City Sports Commission also opposes the bill, arguing that it could cost the city the chance to host major sporting events such as the Big 12 Men’s Basketball Championship. The commission estimates that the loss of NCAA and other athletic events could be $50 million a year for Kansas City.
Sen. Bob Onder, a St. Charles Republican and the bill’s sponsor, said recently that the predictions of economic ruin for Missouri if the “religious freedom” amendment is approved are overblown.
“We look at states that have a lot of aggressive gay rights laws, like Illinois, and they are some of our economic basket cases,” Onder said. “I really think that these businesses should leave well enough alone and let Missouri voters decide whether to protect religious freedom.”
The bill was approved by the Senate and is awaiting a hearing in the House Emerging Issues Committee. If it is eventually approved by the full House, voters will be asked to approve or defeat the amendment later this year on the statewide ballot.