Missouri Attempts to Send Religious Liberty Bill Straight to the People
As religious liberty bills continue to draw ire from big businesses in North Carolina, Georgia, and Mississippi, another state is bracing for a similar battle: Missouri.
Big businesses have already spoken out about a bill currently being debated at the state capitol, arguing that adopting a string of protections for individuals and businesses that don’t support same-sex marriage will drive business away from their state.
But unlike other states where the fate of the legislation was left to the governor, in Missouri, lawmakers want the people to decide.
“Because of the recent Supreme Court decision, because of the whole same-sex marriage [thing] and where religious liberties are protected and where they’re not protected, it’s really created a lot more questions than it’s answered,” state Rep. Paul Curtman told The Daily Signal. “What makes us different is, we’re recognizing all of that, and the legislature is vetting legislation for our Constitution, but then, ultimately, the idea is to let the people to continue to be the final arbitrator of this issue.”
Curtman is the House sponsor of a religious liberty bill known as Senate Joint Resolution 39, which would amend the state’s constitution. In March, after a historic 36-hour filibuster, the state Senate approved the bill. Now the measure is working its way through the House, where, if it passes, it won’t go to the governor’s desk, but rather to a ballot initiative later this year where every Missouri citizen has a chance to weigh in.
“Missouri’s SJR39 represents a seminal moment in the battle for religious liberty,” said Ryan Johnson, president of the Missouri Alliance for Freedom. “The election will be the first opportunity for the people to vote on this issue since the Supreme Court’s decision. Missouri’s historic role as the bellwether state will be an important gauge by which we measure the opinion of the American electorate in the ongoing religious freedom vs. gay marriage contest.”
Supporters say if SJR 39 were to take effect, it would ban government discrimination against people of faith because of their beliefs about marriage. Schools and charities, for example, would be protected from losing access to government programs because of their beliefs about marriage.
Opponents argue that the measure would encourage discrimination against gays, lesbians, and transgender individuals by allowing some private business owners such as photographers and florists to deny service for a wedding or marriage because of their religious beliefs.
They believe that such measure would drive business out of the state, sending the message that Missouri condones discrimination against the LGBT community.
Already, big businesses are threatening boycotts. Missouri Competes, a group of more than 100 businesses that came together to fight the effort, called the bill “misguided” and said it would “damage Missouri’s reputation and hamper our state’s ability to attract top talent.”
The Kansas City Sports Commission estimated that the effort could cost the state more than $50 million annually.
“Senate Joint Resolution 39 would have severe negative ramifications for the entire state of Missouri, not to mention the additional negative impact from a loss of conventions, other events, and leisure travel that would cause irrevocable economic harm,” Kathy Nelson, president and CEO of the Kansas City Sports Commission, said. “These events do not have to come to Missouri; most of the fans that spend their money in our state at these events come from outside Missouri; and once they are lost they are not likely to come back.”
Curtman, the bill’s House sponsor, called the claims “highly disingenuous.” In a phone interview with The Daily Signal, he said:
We have these business elites who are choosing what states to do business in and the reason they’re choosing what states to do business in is due to their deeply-held beliefs. But when they tell us that they’re not going to do business with us if we pass a bill like this or if the people approve this bill, then what they’re really saying is they want to reserve the right to do business in states based on how they believe, but they don’t want the people of our state to be able to reserve the right to do business based on their deeply-held religious beliefs.
More important than a price tag, Curtman said, are principles.
“I don’t know whether or not they think there’s a certain price tag for our First Amendment,” he said. “So whether it’s $1 or $1 million, I just don’t think the First Amendment’s for sale, and I think people should have the right to exercise or practice their business in accordance with their own faith.”
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