MSA, ASUM-UMKC testify against HB 104

MSA passed a resolution Wednesday night opposing the passage of House Bill 104.

On April 7, Missouri Students Association President Payton Head traveled to Jefferson City to testify in a public hearing in front of the Missouri Senate Judiciary Committee. The main purpose of this trip was to voice his opposition to the passage of House Bill 104.

Sponsored by Rep. Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, HB 104 would enact the Student Freedom of Association Act.

Haahr said the bill is intended to protect minority viewpoints on college campuses via prohibiting an institution of higher education from interfering with the exercise of religious freedom of on-campus religious groups. He believes the “all comers” policies adopted by many universities’ non-discrimination rules are hindering the right to free expression and association by implementing acts of de-recognition toward student groups that discriminate based on religious beliefs.

HB 104 has aroused heated controversy, as opponents of the bill claim the bill will legalize discrimination based on religious beliefs of certain student groups that receive state funds, especially toward LGBT community.

HB 104 passed the Missouri House of Representatives on March 19 by majority vote of 117 and is now in the Missouri Senate.

Representing nearly 28,000 undergraduate students at MU, Head spoke out against the bill in his testimony. He said that by passing this bill and allowing associations to freely discriminate, the lawmakers will be “doing (the students) great disservice,” since HB 104 could create an atmosphere of exclusion that goes against the diverse environment MU works hard to foster.

“HB 104 conflicts with the University of Missouri’s promise of fairness and inclusion, and instead will guarantee a student association the right to discriminate against students on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and religious observance requirements and beliefs,” Head said.

He also pointed out that HB 104 would come in conflict with the constitution of the state of Missouri, which “precludes the state from the business of religion entirely – from valuing any set or sets of beliefs over any other set of sets of beliefs.”

“HB 104 mandates public institutions like the University of Missouri to yield special consideration for religious organizations, exempting them from prohibitions on discriminations that apply to every other facet of campus life per the UM System’s Anti-Discrimination policy,” he said.

Head concluded his testimony by taking a determined stance on the current issue.

“I am in adamant opposition to the passage of HB 104 as it will be damaging to the values that our university strives to uphold each day,” Head said.

Head wasn’t the only student representative present at the hearing. Legislative Director of the Associated Students of the University of Missouri Joel Longanecker from the University of Missouri-St. Louis, and Andrew Miller, the administrative vice president of the Student Government Association from University of Missouri-Kansas City along with many others also testified to voice their concerns.

“We want to ensure that all of our students, no matter their race, religion, or sexual orientation, feel safe on our campuses … we do not feel that (HB 104) will accomplish this effectively,” Longanecker said. “It seems as though it was fashioned without inclusion of student groups, and we ask that student groups be included in this with such legislation.”

Head visited the MSA Social Justice Committee meeting Tuesday night to talk to senators about the reasoning behind his testimony.

“In reality, there’s a subliminal message,” he said. “Which would exclude LGBT students from the conversation going on at these organizations, and that’s one of the main reasons why I spoke out about it. And I think it was really important for (the Committee) to see that students are against this. A lot of times, I think that … in Jefferson City, they want to talk about the universities all the time but not actually ask the students how they feel.”

MSA also passed its own legislation, Bill 54-38, Wednesday night during full senate with 17 votes in agreement, 10 nays and 7 abstentions, which is titled “A Resolution to Declare the Missouri Students Associations Opposition to the Passage of HB 104 and SB 248 in the Missouri General Assembly.”

The legislation asserts MSA’s stance of opposition against the passage of HB 104 and SB 248 – both are identical.

SJC chairwoman Greer Wetherington co-authored the bill with Campus and Community Relations Committee chairman Syed Ejaz.

Wetherington said the fact that HB 104 was exclusionary between religious organizations and people of other identities prompted her to pen this legislation.

“For me, it’s a matter of allowing students equal opportunity and allowing their identity to not hold them back,” Wetherington said. “I hope to accomplish, by writing this bill, that Mizzou should be an all-inclusive campus, and that all of its organizations hold the same values as the university.”

Wetherington also said besides writing the bill, SJC is also in the process of getting in contact with religious student associations such as the Muslim Student Organization and Jewish Student Organization in order to ascertain their opinions on the matter.

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