A Missouri Baptist Convention-engineered proposal to strengthen religious liberty protections in the state constitution died April 27 when it failed to win a majority vote from the House Committee on Emerging Issues.
“I am sorry to report that freedom suffered a severe setback today,” Don Hinkle, public policy adviser for the Missouri Baptist Convention, wrote in reporting the defeat of Senate Joint Resolution 39, also known as the Missouri Religious Liberty Amendment, in The Pathway.
But opponents to SJR 39 said the rights of clergy and churches are already protected by the First Amendment, while other provisions would allow religious liberty to be used as an excuse to discriminate. Strong opposition came from the business community with some of the state’s top corporate names saying it would harm the economy.
Hinkle, editor of the Baptist state newspaper who also has the state convention assignment for religious liberty and public policy concerns, called together groups concerned about reports in other states that Christian business owners had been punished for refusing to provide services like flowers, wedding cakes and photography for same-sex weddings not long after last summer’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized gay marriage.
Over the course of six months, the coalition worked out language protecting certain religious groups and individuals from being penalized “because of their sincere religious beliefs or practices concerning marriage between two persons of the same sex,” in legislation sponsored by Republican state Sen. Bob Onder of St. Louis.
“They say, ‘Just shut up and bake the cake,’” Hinkle described the spirit of the proposal. “We say, ‘All hail King Jesus! Come quickly!’”
The committee’s Republican chairman said there are still a couple of procedural possibilities for bringing the bill back to life, but Onder said that is unlikely.
“I am deeply disappointed that Missourians will not have the opportunity to vote on protecting religious freedom,” the bill sponsor posted on Facebook. “Seven weeks ago, the Missouri Senate stood strong through the longest filibuster in state history and voted 23-7 to advance SJR 39. Today, House members caved to pressure from special interests and killed the religious freedom amendment. It is wrong that Missouri voters will be denied a voice in the decision making process.”
Testimony considered by the Emerging Issues Committee included comments by Brian Kaylor, a Baptist minister who works for Churchnet, another statewide Baptist network in Missouri.
“My faith teaches to ‘love thy neighbor,’ so I do not support discrimination in the name of religious liberty or otherwise,” Kaylor told the committee April 12. “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.”