IBM, Jindal spar over controversial 'religious freedom' bill - WAFB 9 News Baton Rouge, Louisiana News, Weather, Sports

IBM, Jindal spar over controversial 'religious freedom' bill

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - There was a war of letters between corporate giant IBM and Gov. Bobby Jindal on Thursday over legislation that is being discussed during the 2015 Louisiana Legislative Session.

A controversial bill could cause friction between the company and the city. Those in favor of the legislation say it protects religious freedoms, while those against insist it allows open season on discrimination.

It was considered the biggest of gets when IBM chose to come to Baton Rouge.

"This is a huge win for downtown Baton Rouge," Jindal said. "This is a huge win for our entire state."

State and city leaders proclaimed it a game changer.

However, IBM senior executive James Driesse sent a letter to Jindal on Wednesday conveying the company's "strong opposition to HB 707, the Marriage and Conscience Act. We are deeply concerned by reports that you intend to support this legislation."

"I think the bill is a good bill because unfortunately, we have seen in other states what has happened when businesses were forced to choose between their beliefs and state sanctions," Jindal explained.

At the State Capitol, Jindal praised the bill, which he listed among the top three items to accomplish this legislative session.

In its brief, terse letter, the global giant warned "a bill that legally protects discrimination based on same-sex marriage status will create a hostile environment for our current and prospective employees, and is antithetical to our company's values. IBM will find it much harder to attract talent to Louisiana if this bill is passed and enacted into law."

"You are confused about what the bill would accomplish in practice," Jindal responded to Driesse and the company.

"HB 707 simply seeks to ensure the state does not take adverse action against a person because of a religious belief in traditional marriage," Jindal added.

In five more paragraphs, the governor sought to win over IBM, concluding the letter by saying, "I thank you again for choosing Louisiana as a place to expand and thrive. I hope you reconsider your position on HB 707."

Mayor Kip Holden questioned why this House bill is getting so much attention, considering all of the major issues the state is currently facing.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Bossier City, also released a response to the IBM letter:

"It seems clear the company executive who wrote the letter opposing HB 707 has either not read the legislation or not understood it. There is nothing in our bill that does what the executive suggests, and it seems he is confusing this with recent, unrelated legislation in other states. Every company that enjoys the freedom and prosperity of our country should also work to support those ideals. The idea that government should be prohibited from discriminating against people simply because of their faith has been a foundational principle of our republic since its founding. It is alarming that any corporate executive would want to oppose that principle today."

The bill is currently awaiting action by the House Civil Law and Procedure Committee.

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