Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

'Religious Liberty' Measure Draws Praise, Scorn at Missouri House Hearing

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

'Religious Liberty' Measure Draws Praise, Scorn at Missouri House Hearing

Article excerpt

JEFFERSON CITY * A Missouri House committee on Tuesday night took up a controversial measure dealing with same-sex marriage that has drawn national attention and a business backlash in the last month.

The resolution, Senate Joint Resolution 39, would ask voters to change the state constitution to shield clergy, some businesses and certain "religious organizations" from legal liability and government penalties if they oppose same-sex marriage. It already passed the Senate and only needs House approval to make the ballot.

No vote was taken in committee Tuesday night.

The House Emerging Issues Committee hearing coincided with the launch of Missouri-Competes.org, a nonpartisan website listing more than 100 businesses, chambers of commerce and other entities that oppose the measure.

Last week, about a dozen St. Louis-area business leaders including executives from Ameren, Express Scripts, BJC HealthCare, Monsanto and Edward Jones signed on to a letter asking that the House strip the bill's most controversial provisions.

Businesses and others have panned provisions that grant protections to wedding vendors and other "religious organizations," including hospitals, charities and other entities with religious ties. They also worry about more lawsuits, mainly from employees who could be disciplined by managers for not selling goods to gay people.

"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. We urge you to amend SJR39 to remove these provisions," the letter from St. Louis business leaders reads, in part.

Proponents, including state Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake Saint Louis, have said that the measure is a "shield and not a sword," meant to protect those with religious beliefs from participating in same-sex weddings.

"Missourians are going to resent being bullied by corporate elites," Onder said at the hearing Tuesday night. …

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