The city of St. Louis added abortion protections to its non-discrimination ordinance, a move religious organizations claim could violate their religious liberty.
On Friday, the St. Louis City Board of Aldermen voted 17-10 to add abortion and contraceptive use to existing non-discrimination laws that are generally used to prevent discrimination based on race, religion, or sex. Board Bill 203 bans employers or housing providers from turning down prospective employees or tenants because they are pregnant, are having or had an abortion, or use contraception.
Alderwoman Megan Green, the bill's sponsor, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch the bill is necessary to prevent employers from firing workers for having an abortion.
"Employers can have their own beliefs," Green said. "But they shouldn’t be able to impose those beliefs on people or fire someone because of those beliefs."
The vote sparked opposition from religious organizations, including the Catholic Church and conservative Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, which said the law would violate religious liberty. Catholic Archbishop Robert J. Carlson called the bill "horrible" in a statement.
"I am outraged that the City of St. Louis Board of Aldermen has now enshrined into law an ordinance which creates a ‘sanctuary' for the despicable practice of abortion," Carlson said. "This horrible piece of legislation will now force city residents to be unwilling participants in the abortion business by requiring business owners and individuals to tacitly approve any ‘reproductive health' decisions made by their employees or tenants."
Archbishop Carlson said the Catholic Church would not obey the bill if it is signed into law. He vowed to take the city to court if it attempts to enforce the anti-discrimination language against the church or affiliated religious organizations.
"The Archdiocese of St. Louis and its affiliated agencies and ministries will not comply with Board Bill 203. We will take legal action to defend our religious liberty, and the constitutionally-protected right of religious liberty of businesses, individuals, and other non-faith-based organizations who will be hampered as this oppressive law is imposed upon them," he said.
The Supreme Court recently weighed in on the applicability of non-discrimination laws to religious institutions. When a teacher at a Michigan Lutheran school alleged she lost her job after developing narcolepsy, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that her termination violated non-discrimination protections contained in the Americans with Disabilities Act. In 2012, the high court unanimously ruled that non-discrimination laws cannot be enforced against religious organizations in the course of hiring or employing those who teach or preach the religion.
"When a minister who has been fired sues her church alleging that her termination was discriminatory, the First Amendment has struck the balance for us. The church must be free to choose those who will guide it on its way," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the court.
Green took to Twitter to celebrate the bill's passage using the #ShePersists hashtag.
— Megan Ellyia Green (@MeganEllyia) February 11, 2017
The bill now heads to the desk of Democratic Mayor Francis Slay. A Slay spokesman did not return a request for comment.