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Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Controversial Missouri religious freedom bill moves forward

The resolution, if passed, would make Missouri the first state to vote on a religious liberties amendment to the state constitution.

A month after a filibuster in the Missouri legislature made national headlines, the bill is moving forward. After being passed in the Senate last month over a filibuster by Missouri senate Democrats, Senate Joint Resolution 39 is currently being deliberated upon in the House of Representatives.

SJR 39 would create a referendum for voters to decide whether to amend the state Constitution prohibiting the state from imposing penalties on individuals and religious entities who refuse to participate in same sex marriage ceremonies due to sincerely held religious beliefs.

As the proposal would be passed by Missouri voters, it could not be vetoed by Gov. Jay Nixon. SJR 39 would also make Missouri the first state in the nation to vote upon the now-controversial issue of religious freedoms.

The bill faces opposition from various groups around the state.

Several Missouri businesses have joined together to create Missouri Competes, a non-partisan business coalition dedicated to stopping the passage of the resolution. Missouri Competes includes businesses such as Monsanto, Edward Jones and MasterCard. It also includes the chambers of commerce for Kansas City, St. Charles County and the St. Louis Region.

“It hurts our economy if we put barriers in place that keep some of the best and most talented people from wanting to live and work in Missouri,” said Hart Nelson, vice president of Public Policy at the St. Louis Regional Chamber, in an email. “SJR 39 is a discriminatory bill that threatens Missouri’s reputation as a good place to work and raise a family, and which undermines our efforts to grow a vibrant economy here in St. Louis. We oppose SJR 39 and strongly urge House lawmakers to reject enshrining discrimination in our state constitution.”

International Business Machines Corporation also expressed its opposition to the legislation. In an online statement, IBM urged the House not to pass the resolution, stating its opposed to “discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, national origin, genetics, disability or age.”

In a blog post on the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri’s website, ACLU board member Dan Davis said the bill would otherize LGBTQ individuals and reinforce the perception that “they are less than straight people.”

“When we ensconce in our state constitution that LGBT+ people have fewer rights than others we are ensconcing in innocent children’s minds that they are different and that different is bad,” Davis said. “That is why I ask you to stand with me and many of our fellow Missourians to loudly declare that hate is not a Missouri Value.”

Supporters for the legislation, such as Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, see the bill as giving Missouri voters a choice.

Kinder testified before the House Emerging Issues Committee on April 12, defending SJR 39 as an important part of protecting religious liberties.

“SJR 39 boils down to a simple question, whether Missourians should be given the chance to decide whether the Missouri constitution should be amended to provide vital protections for all Missourians’ religious liberties,” Kinder said in his testimony. “This is not about discrimination, as opponents are trying to spin it. It is purely about letting voters have a voice on reserving a zone of protected activity based on their sincere religious convictions.”

Attorney General candidate Josh Hawley expressed his support for the legislation, saying that churches and small businesses should ultimately be allowed to follow their consciences.

“It’s right and appropriate to accommodate the views of believers on the issue of marriage,” Hawley said.

Hawley also voiced his opposition to Obergefell v Hodges, the 2015 Supreme Court decision guaranteeing the right of same-sex couples to marry, calling it “wrong by law” and “bad public policy.”

Sophomore Nicholas Wahl said that though he disagrees with discriminatory practices, private companies should have the legal right to refuse service if they want.

“It’s their right to as a business,” Wahl said. “However, they are gigantic idiots if they refuse someone based on sexuality.”

Similar legislation was proposed in several states such as Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee and have attracted large amounts of controversy.

North Carolina drew national attention earlier in April after it signed a similar religious freedom bill to Missouri into law. On April 5, PayPal announced in a statement on its website that it was canceling a planned expansion into Charlotte that would have created 400 new jobs in response to the legislation, saying that “principles of fairness, inclusion and equality” compel the company to “oppose discrimination.”

In response to the passage of a similar bill in Mississippi, Vermont, Washington and New York have announced the ban of all official state funded travel to Mississippi.

Edited by Hailey Stolze | hstolze@themaneater.com

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