Public comments on proposed religious freedom resolution

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JEFFERSON CITY - The Missouri House of Representatives Committee on Emerging Issues was set for a public meeting for an exercise of religion or religious freedom resolution Tuesday night, upon adjournment of the House daily session.

The proposal received heavy attention following a record-breaking 39-hour filibuster by Democrats while on the Senate floor.

Senate Joint Resolution 39 proposes government protection for businesses and individuals that refuse to provide services because of beliefs about same-sex marriage. The resolution would also provide protection to shield clergy and places of worship that decline to participate in same-sex weddings.  

Despite the 39-hour filibuster, the Senate passed the resolution by a vote of 23-9 on March 9. 

Upon adjournment of the House of Representatives daily legislative session, committee members, proponents, opponents and what many were calling “the most amount of media coverage for any bill covered this legislative session” convened in House Hearing Room 3. 

Sen. Onder, R-Lake Saint Louis, the bill sponsor, started the public hearing by presenting his bill to the committee saying his bill is a “shield, not a sword” and is meant to protect business and individuals with religious beliefs from having to participate in providing services to same-sex weddings. 

“This bill is to prevent government penalties to those who exercise their religious beliefs to deny service” Onder said on Tuesday night. “This bill lets the people decide if this is important to them.” He concluded. 

Rep. Mike Colona, D-St. Louis, is in heavy opposition of this bill and that reflected during Tuesday’s committee meeting.

 “At its core, SJR 39 seeks to create a constitutional right to be mean to certain people based on who they love. Freedom of religion must be respected and accommodated, but it cannot be used as an excuse to deny others the right to be treated with basic human dignity.” Colona said in a press release handed out during the committee meeting.

Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, was also in attendance of Tuesday night’s committee meeting as he testified in favor of SJR 39. “Four weeks remain in the legislative session and as all legislator know, time flies. We are trying to put something on the ballot.” Kinder said. “We need to put it on the ballot so the people can decide if they want this legislation.”

Sarah Rossi, director of advocacy policy at the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri (ACLU) was one of the final opponents to testify for against SJR 39 at Tuesday nights meeting. “It’s not just dollars and cents,” Rossi said. “This is about people and their lives.”

The religious freedom bill must pass through House Committee and approved by the House before it would be placed on the ballot and voted on by the people.

[This story has been updated to reflect the newest information]