Critics of religious liberties bill send 4,000 petitions to Capitol

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JEFFERSON CITY - Supporters of LGBTQ rights, along with business leaders, delivered more than 4,000 petitions opposing a controversial religious objection measure to the state Capitol Thursday. 

Pro-LGBTQ rights groups, PROMO Missouri and the ACLU of Missouri organized the rally in protest of SJR 39. It would amend the Missouri Constitution to protect those who deny services to a same-sex couple because of religious objections to gay marriage.

Executive director of PROMO Missouri, Steph Perkins, said protesters would be delivering the petitions directly to House Speaker Todd Richardson's desk.  

Perkins said the group wanted to make sure Richardson actually sees the petitions "to make sure that the folks that have an opportunity to stop it hear the voices of business owners, faith leaders and community members who oppose this."

One of those voices was Nikki Moungo, a mother from St. Louis who lost her son to an accidental overdose after being harshly bullied for his sexuality.

Moungo said the religious objection would send the message to LGBTQ children that they are not welcome in Missouri. She also said many of her LGBTQ friends didn't attend the rally Thursday because of the shaming the measure would create. 

"They don't want their picture in the paper, they don't want to be on the evening news, because they're scared and they feel like they're being terrorized in their own state," Moungo said. "They are not sleeping. They are not eating. They are absolutely horrified." 

The Missouri Senate voted the measure through to the House earlier in March, after sparking a filibuster that lasted over three days. 

Senate Democrats fiercely opposed the measure, saying it would write discrimination of the LGBTQ community into the Missouri Constitution. 

Republicans argue that people deserve to have religious freedom as it is guaranteed to them in the U.S. Constitution.

The sponsor of SJR 39, Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis, said he commended the protesters Thursday for exercising their right to express their opposition to the measure, but felt a majority of Missourians were still in favor of it.

"The Missouri Catholic Conference, the Baptists, the Assemblies of God have all endorsed my amendment, the Missouri Farm Bureaus. Together that's over three million Missourians," Onder said. "So, overwhelmingly majority of Missourians support extending religious freedom."