A Missouri religious liberty bill passed last month by the state Senate after a 39-hour filibuster once again kept lawmakers up late at night, when a five hour debate April 13 in the Missouri House of Representatives ended after midnight without a vote.
SJR 39, introduced by St. Charles County Republican Bob Onder with support from a coalition led by the conservative Missouri Baptist Convention, allows organizations and individuals to deny services based on sincerely held religious beliefs. The legislation was prompted by last year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states.
Civil-rights groups and business owners oppose the measure, saying it gives people an excuse to discriminate against certain individuals by appealing to religion.
In testimony earlier this week before a House committee, Brian Kaylor, a representative of Churchnet, a more progressive network of Missouri Baptist churches, urged lawmakers to defeat the measure because of, and not despite of, religious liberty concerns.
Kaylor, a journalist and former college professor who has written for outlets including Baptist News Global, said Missourians already enjoy strong religious liberty protections, and that religious liberty must apply equally to all. He said SJR 39 “wrongly privileges one religious belief over others” because it singles out one particular religious belief for special protection.
Furthermore, Kaylor said, “religious liberty should be a shield, not a sword.”
“SJR 39 is a sword against same-sex couples,” he said. “Using religious liberty to sanction discrimination against minorities runs counter to the very spirit of such protections.”
Kaylor said the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution creates a “delicate balance” between two different — and sometimes competing — religion clauses.
“Too many voices today attempt to elevate one clause over the other,” he said. “Some even seem to think their free exercise is harmed unless they are allowed to establish their religion. But the First Amendment requires balance between no establishment and free exercise.”
“My faith teaches me to ‘love thy neighbor,’ so I do not support discrimination in the name of religious liberty or otherwise,” Kaylor told Missouri lawmakers. “If you wish to advance religious liberty, and I hope you do, then I urge you to vote against this bad bill. Religious liberty remains too important to be perverted into a discriminatory weapon.”