Monsanto: Missouri’s Religious Freedom Law Would Let Any Business Discriminate Against LGBT Community

Image courtesy of Mike Matney

With North Carolina and Mississippi already passing bills that respectively, limit protections against gay and transgender people, and explicitly allow discrimination against the LGBT community, another coalition of big-name companies are hoping to stop Missouri lawmakers from going down the same path, with seed giant Monsanto telling Congress that such rules are bad for business.

Missouri Senate Joint Resolution 39 [PDF] seeks to allow “religious organizations” to be exempted from any penalty for acting “in accordance with a sincere religious belief concerning marriage between two persons of the same sex.”

However, critics note that the language used in the resolution leaves the term “religious organizations” open to some interpretation. While the text cites specific, traditional examples you’d expect — churches, synagogues, mosques, temples — it also includes health care facilities, hospices, elder care facilities, crisis pregnancy centers, whether or not they are connected to or affiliated with any sort of church, so long as the organization “holds itself out to the public in whole or in part as religious and its purposes and activities are in whole or in part religious.”

So, arguably a business that openly supports a local church with donations could try to make the argument that it is a religious organization under this definition.

And some private businesses may not have to make that argument. The resolution also aims to give similar exempt status to photographers, bakers, florists, or anyone else who doesn’t wish to be involved in providing goods or services to same-sex marriages.

Unlike in North Carolina or Mississippi — or in Georgia, where the governor vetoed the legislation — the Missouri resolution would bypass the governor’s office completely. Instead, if the state House of Representatives approves it, the resolution would go before a statewide vote to amend the Missouri constitution to include these changes.

Yesterday, Monsanto’s head of government affairs testified before Missouri lawmakers to explain the company’s opposition to the resolution.

“In order to remain competitive in the workplace, we must create an environment that allows all of our employees to be authentic, regardless of who they are as individuals,” explained the Monsanto exec, noting that the controversial seed company extends same-sex partner benefits to its employees.

“SJR 39 is not just about wedding vendors and clergy,” he continued. “It redefines the term ‘religious organization’ so that any for-profit business can self-declare itself a religious organization and then discriminate against same sex couples in employment, housing and public accommodations.”

If the resolution passes as it currently exists, says Monsanto, “It would harm the reputation of our entire state, potentially costing the state millions of dollars in economic activity and untold losses in the dignity every citizen of Missouri deserves.”

Monsanto is just one of dozens of companies have joined the Missouri Competes coalition, which calls on lawmakers to stop the resolution now.

The group includes everything from single-person businesses to multinational corporate giants like Pfizer, Dow, Marriott, Google, MasterCard, and Nestlé Purina.

The resolution’s sponsor, state senator Bob Onder, tells the AP that the people of Missouri should be the ones to decide this issue, and that these “corporate elites” will be the ones who are boycotted.

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