At first glance, the answer may seem obvious. Of course we do. But this has come into question as critics of the Religious Liberty Amendment, SJR 39, have attacked this amendment with unprecedented name-calling and misrepresentation.
The background for this amendment is the 2015 US Supreme Court decision Obergefell v. Hodges, in which the Court ruled that couples of the same sex have a fundamental right to marry. While the decision was definitive on the issue of same-sex marriage, it raised more questions than it answered. Foremost among these concerns are the rights of those who disagree, and specifically those whose disagreement stems from their religious faith. Justice Roberts worried that the decision “will be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy [and] stamp out every vestige of dissent.”
On March 10, 2016, the Missouri Senate approved my Religious Freedom Amendment, SJR 39, by an overwhelming 23 to 7 vote. The resolution will now be considered by the House. If passed, it would allow a vote of the people on whether to protect pastors, churches, religious organizations and some individuals from being penalized by the government for their sincere religious beliefs about marriage. The bill is entirely defensive in that it protects from persecution by the government. In the area of private business, it protects only those who offer goods or services of creative or artistic expression for a wedding ceremony.
One such small businessperson was bakery owner Melissa Klein in Oregon. Melissa was fined $130,000 by the state and literally sued out of business because she refused to be forced into participation in a religious ceremony that violated her conscience. Cases similar to Klein’s have occurred across the country. This bill is carefully targeted to protect those now vulnerable while avoiding unintended consequences. SJR 39 is thoughtfully crafted to embody the spirit of tolerance and pluralism woven into the very fabric of our Bill of Rights. Yet even this attempt to peacefully accommodate differing views is met with overt and covert attempts to gut and kill the bill by those unwavering in their belief that every person of faith must ultimately bend the knee at the altar of political correctness.
If you think about it, would we require a Muslim baker to make a cake that said “Islam is a religion of War” or an African American baker one that said “KKK”? Why not? Because we believe in freedom of religion and freedom of speech.
SJR 39 is a shield, not a sword. It is unlike other controversies that have occurred across the country surrounding Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRAs) in states such as Indiana. RFRAs are much broader, and have been used to protect everything from native Americans using peyote in religious ceremonies to length of facial hair in federal prisons. So despite what detractors may say, this bill is quite different from those that created controversies elsewhere in the country.
Time and time again opponents have referred to my resolution as discriminatory. In making such charges, they are saying that they no longer believe in freedom of conscience, freedom of religion or freedom of association. They are saying to business people like Melissa Klein, either violate your conscience or the iron fist of government will come down on you. That is not tolerance in my view; its anti-religious tyranny.