Missouri Moves to Protect Religious Liberty

NormanRockwellFreedomOfWorshipSquareThe Memorare Army for Religious Freedom can celebrate one partial answer to our prayer for religious freedom – Missouri legislation may rule to protect religious people who object to same-sex marriage.

On Wednesday, March 2, after a state record-breaking filibuster of 39 hours by the Senate’s minority Democrats, the Missouri Senate voted to pass a religious freedom bill, 23-9. Senate Joint Resolution (SJR) 39 was introduced in February as an amendment to the state Constitution, offering governmental protection on issues of conscience and same-sex marriage.

Republicans hold a large majority in both the Missouri Senate and House, making the resolution’s passing extremely likely. Once it passes in the state legislature, it goes on to the people on a statewide ballot, allowing the people to vote for themselves.

If passed, SJR 39 would mean, in summary, that:

  • No penalty would be imposed on any clergy, religious leaders, religious organizations, or individual that objects, for religious reasons, to facilitating or participating in a same-sex marriage;
  • No rights would be infringed upon or taken from any same-sex couple;
  • No spousal rights would be denied to any same-sex couple regarding hospital visitation or medical decisions;
  • Only small, individually-owned businesses whose owners have a religious objection to same-sex marriage are exempt from having to serve same-sex couples, but only within the context of a wedding or “resulting celebration” – they cannot refuse service to same-sex people simply because they are homosexual. Hotel chains, grocery store chains, and other such corporations are not exempt, regardless of context.

“We spent a lot of time writing it to avoid the controversies we’ve seen in other states,” Republican MemorareMondaySenator Bob Onder said in an interview.

Naturally there is a lot of antagonism surrounding the idea of religious liberty, held by those who see it only as discrimination. “This bill is a direct hit on those individuals who decide to love and be in love with the same sex, and that’s not fair,” said Democrat Sen. Jamilah Nasheed.

Actually, the Resolution acknowledges and protects the legal right of same-sex couples to be married and have all the rights of a heterosexual couple, while simultaneously protecting the right of religious people and organizations against discrimination in cases of same-sex wedding ceremonies and celebrations.

Missouri’s Resolution comes amidst a storm gathering in the Southeast: Georgia’s religious liberty bill, HB 757, is currently being amended between the House and the Senate before going on to the Governor.

So far in Missouri, the biggest news against the Resolution has come from the failed filibuster. But opposition is starting to grow in the sports world: The NCAA and Big 12 organizations have started to contact Kansas City Manager Troy Schulte about the bill, suggesting that if it is made law, they will not bring their sports competitions to the city.

“There’s no reason why,” Schulte said, “if we passed this legislation, the Big 12 couldn’t come to us and say, ‘We no longer thing you’re a welcoming environment. We’re going to pull it and go to Oklahoma City or Dallas.’”

The Big 12 alone brings $13 million to Kansas City. When the NCAA spoke out against Indiana’s similar religious freedom bill last year, the city of Indianapolis lost an estimated $60 million over the issue.

In Georgia, the fight has been much bigger.

Four hundred businesses are threatening to leave the state if Georgia if the Bill passes. Efforts are being led by Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, who also fought Indiana’s religious freedom law in last year’s infamous court battle. The looming list of businesses include everything from Home Depot, Delta, and Coca-Cola to local stores. The governor of Georgia himself, Nathan Deal, has spoken out against the Bill.

Thanks to the Republican majority in both houses of the Missouri State Legislature, things are looking much better for the Missouri Resolution than the Georgia Bill. But, as always, both are in need of continuing prayer. Join the Memorare Army here to pray for the legal protection of religious freedom.

The Gregorian Institute is Benedictine College’s initiative to promote Catholic identity in public life by equipping leaders (the Gregorian speech digest), training leaders (the Gregorian Fellows), defending the faith (the Memorare Army for Religious Freedom), and celebrating Catholic identity (the Catholic Hall of Fame).

Eileen Wittig