The Missouri Senate has given final passage to a proposed constitutional amendment which would strengthen the free exercise of religion in our state. The proposal would prohibit government from taking action against religious organizations because of their opposition to same-sex unions.
The measure, Senate Joint Resolution 39, was adopted by the Missouri Senate last Thursday on a vote of 23-7, and now moves on to the Missouri House of Representatives. The proposal is sponsored by Senator Bob Onder of Lake St. Louis.
Senator Onder’s bill was the subject of a 39-hour filibuster earlier in the week by senators supportive of the “gay rights” movement. The protracted stalling tactics amounted to the longest continuous filibuster ever mounted in a Missouri legislative chamber. The preliminary “debate” on the measure extended from 4PM on Tuesday afternoon to 7AM on Thursday morning without interruption.
Senate leaders then moved to shut down debate by moving the previous question. While commonly used in the Missouri House, the previous question motion is rarely employed in the Senate. It has been used in recent years when it has been clear that opponents of a bill will not allow their fellow senators to vote on a measure.
Senate Joint Resolution 39 would prohibit state agencies or local governments from imposing penalties on ministers, churches, or religious organizations for declining to participate in same-sex union ceremonies, or for refusing to make their facilities or property available for such ceremonies. The bill also would immunize religious entities from civil lawsuits alleging discriminatory conduct.
The legislation would also ban any government action against wedding vendors for declining to service same-sex union ceremonies because of their religious beliefs. Bakers, florists, and photographers have been the targets of anti-discrimination complaints in other states, with several businesses being the victims of harsh penalties for standing by their religious convictions.
Senator Onder says that the purpose of the constitutional amendment is to prevent government “from persecuting people for living out their religious beliefs.” “I don’t think the state should decide what views of marriage are acceptable and what views aren’t acceptable and then proceed to punish those who disagree.”
Senator Mike Parson of Bolivar says it was necessary for people of faith to take a stand. “Our freedom of religion is constantly under attack by liberals who seem to think the First Amendment doesn’t matter. They claim they are arguing for tolerance, but what they really want is to extinguish our freedom of religion. Rather than embracing tolerance, they actually seek to keep anyone from holding religious beliefs that do not line up with their religious worldview.”
The penalties prohibited by the bill include not only government fines and civil liabilities, but also the revocation of tax exemptions, or the denial of government contracts, grants, or reimbursements. Religious organizations covered by the bill include houses of worship, religious schools, religious charities, religious social service providers, and religious hospitals and health care providers.
Senator Onder’s bill is a response to two disturbing developments in the public arena. The first was the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court last June to redefine the institution of marriage. In a case known as Obergefell v. Hodges, the High Court declared that same-sex individuals have a “fundamental right” to be “married.”
In so doing, the Supreme Court transformed the nature, purpose, and meaning of marriage to include relationships which God has declared to be an abomination. The High Court accomplished this by ignoring longstanding legal precedent that a “fundamental right” must be rooted deeply in the nation’s history and traditions.
The second development is a rash of laws being adopted across the country which amend anti-discrimination statutes to include so-called “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” As a result of these changes to the “public accommodations” sections of these laws, homosexuals have been empowered to sue or file complaints against Christian business owners who have declined to be personally involved in same-sex union ceremonies or celebrations.
While Missouri does not currently have such a law, local ordinances hostile to Christianity have been adopted in the communities of St. Louis, Kansas City, and Columbia. An ordinance enacted in Springfield was subsequently repealed by the voters.
In the most notorious case nationwide, an Oregon couple named Aaron and Melissa Klein came under attack for declining to decorate a cake for a same-sex “wedding.” A complaint was subsequently filed against them and their business, Sweet Cakes by Melissa, for “sexual orientation discrimination.” State labor officials found the couple guilty, and levied against them a crushing fine of $135,000.
Such attacks have not been confined to wedding vendors or to secular businesses. A Methodist church in New Jersey lost its state tax exemption when it refused to allow its property to be used for a same-sex union ceremony. A minister in Couer d’Alene, Idaho, was threatened with charges of “sexual orientation” discrimination for failing to “marry” same-sex “couples” at his wedding chapel.
Christian ministries have also been the victims of discrimination for their belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. The State of Illinois cancelled its contract with Catholic Charities of Illinois to provide adoption services because the agency would only place children in families where they would have the benefit of a mother and a father.
If Senate Joint Resolution 39 is approved by the Missouri House, it would go on the statewide ballot for voter approval later this year. Voters would cast their ballots on the issue in the November general election, unless Governor Jay Nixon decides to place the issue on the August primary ballot.
Here is how Senators voted on Senate Joint Resolution 39:
FOR: Senators Brown, Cunningham, Dixon, Emery, Hegeman, Kehoe, Kraus, Libla, Munzlinger, Onder, Parson, Pearce, Richard, Riddle, Romine, Sater, Schaefer, Schatz, Schmitt, Silvey, Wallingford, Wasson, and Wieland
AGAINST: Senators Curls, Holsman, Keaveny, Nasheed, Schupp, Sifton, and Walsh
ABSENT WITH LEAVE: Senators Chappelle-Nadal and Schaaf
Senators Chappelle-Nadal and Schaaf voted against the bill on perfection.