A proposed constitutional amendment to strengthen religious freedom protections for pastors, churches, and religious organizations, has died in a committee of the Missouri House of Representatives. As a result, Missouri voters will be denied the opportunity to vote on this issue during the upcoming primary or general election.
Senate Joint Resolution 39 failed last week to win approval from the House Emerging Issues Committee when the vote on the bill ended in a 6-6 deadlock. Unless a member of the committee reconsiders their vote, which is extremely unlikely, the bill is dead for this session. The Missouri General Assembly has only a few days left in the 2016 regular session before it adjourns on May 13th.
SJR 39, sponsored by Senator Bob Onder of Lake St. Louis, had previously been approved by the Missouri Senate on a party-line vote of 23-7. Republican state senators voted in favor of the amendment, and Democrat senators opposed it. The proposal was adopted following a historic filibuster by opponents which lasted 39 hours that extended nonstop overnight for two straight days.
The proposed constitutional amendment would have prohibited state agencies or local governments from imposing penalties on ministers, churches, or religious organizations for refusing to participate in same-sex union ceremonies, or for declining to make their facilities or property available for such ceremonies. The bill would also have provided legal immunity for religious entities from civil lawsuits alleging discriminatory conduct.
SJR39 also would have banned civil litigation or government action against wedding vendors who decline to participate in same-sex union ceremonies. There have been numerous instances across the country where florists, bakers, and photographers have been the victims of vindictive prosecution and draconian fines for resisting demands that they assist the celebration of sexual perversion.
The religious freedom amendment met its demise in the House Emerging Issues Committee when three Republican lawmakers who claim to be conservatives joined with three Democrats to kill the bill. Republican representatives Jim Hansen, Caleb Rowden, and Anne Zerr teamed up with Democrats Mike Colona, Jeremy LaFaver, and Sharon Pace, to defeat the proposal.
Republican legislators voting for the bill were Representatives Jack Bondon, Gary Cross, Ron Hicks, Bill Lant, Dave Muntzel, and committee chairman Elijah Haahr.
Lobbyists for the ACLU and PROMO, the state’s homosexual rights organization, lobbied vigorously against the bill. As has been true in similar battles in other states, “gay rights” activists rallied their cultural cohorts in the big business community to denounce the bill, who argued that its passage would somehow cause an economic apocalypse in Missouri.
The Missouri Chamber of Commerce, the St. Louis Regional Chamber, and the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce pressured House members to bury Senator Onder’s bill. Lobbyists for major Missouri corporations like Monsanto swarmed the Capitol halls trumpeting the mendacious message that bolstering freedom of speech and freedom of religion would drive talent and tourists away from the state.
The ultraliberal print and broadcast media assumed their duplicitous role as propaganda partners for the homosexual rights cause, falsely “reporting” that the bill would allow any business to deny service to any homosexual or lesbian person or couple at any time for any reason.
Senator Onder bemoaned the cowardice of House members who lacked the moral resolve to stand up to the bullies in the boardrooms of big business. “I am deeply disappointed that Missourians will not have the opportunity to vote on protecting religious freedom.”
“Seven weeks ago, the Missouri Senate stood strong through the longest filibuster in state history and voted to advance SJR 39. Today, House members caved to pressure from special interests and killed the religious freedom amendment.”
One of the dissenting House committee members, Representative Caleb Rowden of Columbia, justified his vote with this statement: “I did not believe SJR 39 was the right way to move our state forward when the people of Missouri are looking for leadership on how to fix our roads, grow our economy, and keep our families safe.”
Rather, we would suggest what the people of Missouri are looking for are legislators with the guts to defend the Bill of Rights, our First Amendment freedoms, and to keep our religious liberties safe. We are not moving our state forward if its citizens are targets of tyranny from the government and treachery from the legal system because they remain true to their religious convictions.
Another dissenting committee member, Representative Anne Zerr of St. Charles, parroted the dubious narrative that religious freedom bills result in “a huge economic hit” to states that adopt them, and that Missouri would lose convention business. It is discouraging to hear that conventions are more important than conscience, and that avarice for the Almighty Dollar is a greater priority than the liberty of people with allegiance to Almighty God.
House Speaker Todd Richardson and Emerging Issues Committee Chairman Elijah Haahr both expressed displeasure with the committee’s failure to advance SJR39. “While I am disappointed by today’s outcome, I remain committed to fighting for the religious freedoms of all Missourians. I am confident the caucus will continue to pursue policy solutions to ensure these freedoms are protected,” Richardson said in a formal statement.
Only time will tell whether the Missouri House has the individual and collective will and courage to follow through on that commitment. In the meantime, we are especially grateful to Senator Bob Onder for his leadership on this issue, and for his perseverance in the face of the hateful diatribes from opponents of the bill. You can send a message thanking Senator Onder at firstname.lastname@example.org