This past week the Missouri Senate focused on the issue of religious freedom.
Senate Joint Resolution 39, a resolution I sponsored, was brought before the body Monday afternoon. Senators from the minority party wasted no time filibustering the resolution. That filibuster continued into Tuesday morning and lasted throughout the day on Tuesday until the early morning hours on Wednesday. At that time after a nearly 40-hour filibuster, I, on behalf of the Republican majority, made a motion to move to the previous question, a procedural move that ends debate and requires an immediate vote on the issue at hand.
Motions for the previous question, often referred to as a PQ, are rare in the history of the Senate, though always available to use. Many consider the PQ to be the counter-balance of the filibuster, meaning that if one side chooses to filibuster, the PQ option is available to the other party to end that discussion. When the issue came to a vote final vote on Thursday, SJR 39 passed 23-7.
Senate Joint Resolution 39 now goes to the House. If passed, it would require a vote of the people in the August or November elections. The resolution asks whether voters of the state wish to protect pastors, churches, religious organizations and some individuals from being penalized by the government for their sincere religious beliefs about marriage. The bill is entirely defensive in that it protects citizens and religious organizations from persecution. In the area of private business, it protects those who offer goods or services of creative or artistic expression for a wedding ceremony, such as bakery owner Melissa Klein in Oregon who was fined $130,000 by the state and sued out of business because she refused to be commandeered into participation in a religious ceremony that violated her conscience. Cases similar to Klein’s have popped up across the country. This bill is carefully targeted to protect those now vulnerable while avoiding unintended consequences. It is in the spirit of tolerance and pluralism embodied in our Bill of Rights.
The background for this amendment is the 2015 US Supreme Court decision Obergefell v. Hodges, in which the Court ruled that couples of the same sex have a fundamental right to marry. As many observed at that time, while the decision was quite definitive on the issue of same-sex marriage, it raised many more questions. Important among those questions are the rights of those who disagree, and specifically those of the religious faith.
This legislation is a shield, not a sword. It is unlike other controversies that have occurred across the country surrounding Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRAs) in states such as Indiana. RFRAs protect any and all religious beliefs and shift the burden of showing both a compelling state interest and that such interest is being pursued by the least restrictive means to the government. With RFRAs, if the government fails on either front, the law is unenforceable against the claimant. So, despite what opponents will say, this is quite a different bill than those that created controversies elsewhere in the country.
Time and time again, the opposition referred to the resolution as discriminatory. In making such charges, opponents basically say that they no longer believe in freedom of conscience, freedom of religion or freedom of association. They are saying to business people like Melissa Klein, either violate your conscience or the iron fist of government will come down on you. That is not tolerance in my view; that’s tyranny.
I want to sincerely thank each and every one of my Senate colleagues who supported SJR 39 in an effort to protect the religious liberty of ALL Missourians. The SJR now heads to the House where it will follow a similar process. I will be sure to update you as the resolution moves forward.
Many thanks for your continued support.
Contacting Sen. Onder
Throughout this session, I will do my best to keep you informed of our work here in the Capitol. I encourage you to contact my office if you have comments, questions or concerns.
For constituent questions, scheduling and general questions, please contact my Scheduler and Director of Constituent Services Theckla Spainhower at Theckla.Spainhower@senate.mo.gov.
For questions pertaining to legislation, please contact my Chief of Staff and Legislative Director Jennae Neustadt at Jennae.Neustadt@senate.mo.gov.
You can reach my Capitol office at (573) 751-1282. You can also e-mail me personally at Bob.Onder@senate.mo.gov.
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Thank you again for your support. I look forward to serving you.
Robert F. (Bob) Onder, Jr.