Column: Missouri amendment promotes bigotry

Columnist Hunter Bassler on the incorrect use of religion to justify homophobia.

Kim Davis was pretty popular late last year. As a reminder, Kim Davis is the county clerk for Rowan County, Kentucky, who gained international attention after defying an order from the federal court to issue marriage licenses to gay couples due to her religious beliefs. Due to her defiance of authority, claiming to be acting “under God’s authority,” she was jailed for contempt of court, an offense referring to disobedience in a court of law or its rulings.

Five days later, she was released from jail to Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” and a press conference of people chanting her name regarding her as a hero. The Kim Davis controversy was viewed from many different perspectives across the nation, including ridicule for not doing her job and for those regarding her as a hero for standing by her religious beliefs.

These perspectives are becoming relevant again due to a proposal that was advanced by the Missouri Senate this past Thursday. The measure will add greater “religious protections” to the state Constitution for business owners and individuals who are against gay marriage. The amendment would forbid government penalties against those who have a “sincere religious belief” and cannot provide services or goods for any event related to same sex marriages. The St. Charles Republican sponsor of the proposal Sen. Bob Onder stated he supported the measure because “no one should be compelled to make a work with their own hands that’s offensive to their beliefs.” Democrats, as a whole, fought the measure for 37 hours, stating it would hurt the economy and promote discrimination against same sex couples.

From the very beginning, I was against the actions of Kim Davis and again I find myself standing in opposition to the passing of this amendment. I, in a sense, have a great amount of respect for people who stand for what they believe in even though it seems as if the entire world is against them. I respect anyone who has the courage to stand against the media, the mobs or the government to defend that which they believe. However, my respect disappears when individuals impose their beliefs on the population.

We, as citizens of the United States, have the beautiful right to religious freedom. We are free to practice whatever religion we want, free to believe whatever we want and free to think that gay marriage is a sin or a travesty or whatever else. But, we are not allowed to inflict our religious beliefs on other people. That is what this proposal is trying to do. The proposal is the equivalent of saying since someone has strong religious convictions, other people should be denied their goods and services. This is not under the protection of religious freedom. As Bill Maher stated, “If all these people say that they can ignore the rule of man because the rule of God goes against it, then we are Iran, then we are Saudi Arabia, then we are Sharia Law.”

This amendment seems very familiar to a similar situation that happened during the 1950s. Instead of wrongly using religious freedom to promote homophobia, it was used to warrant racism. Many examples can be seen from this time period of the disgusting and offensive pairing of religion and bigotry. Theodore Bilbo, a former Mississippi governor and senator, had a very firm stance on the separation of races due to what he believed God wanted. In his book entitled Take Your Choice: Separation or Mongrelization, Bilbo wrote “purity of race is a gift of God . . . . And God, in his infinite wisdom, has so ordained it that when man destroys his racial purity, it can never be redeemed.” To Bilbo, allowing the “blood of races to mix” was an attack on “God’s Divine Plan.” Bob Jones University, a Christian college in South Carolina, can also be seen as incorrectly using their religion to justify their bigotry. The school permitted black students from attending the university only if they were married. Although this ended in 1975, it still prohibited interracial marriage or dating.

Ultimately, if this amendment is passed, we will see another era of segregation not unlike that which we saw in the mid-1900s. Instead of signs hanging outside of business windows stating “NEGROES NOT WELCOME”, we will see posters stating “NO QUEERS ALLOWED.”

“Generations from now, people will look back on what we've done, and they'll be ashamed of us," Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City, said on the proposal.

Gov. Jay Nixon also weighed in on the proposal.

“Rewriting our state's constitution to condone discrimination would be contrary to our values and harmful to our economy,” Nixon said.

I plead with the Missouri House and, if necessary, the citizens of Missouri to not pass this amendment. While it may incorrectly look to some as the broadening of our religious freedom, it is, in the end, nothing but an act allowing and promoting discrimination and bigotry. In the land of the free, I implore readers to not let Missouri become an “American Saudi Arabia,” but let everyone be free, regardless of race or sexual preference.

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