Religious freedom should not trump human dignity


Jenna Liu

Art by Shelby Yount
Picture strolling into a bakery, brimming with excitement about the plans for your wedding. You and your partner decided all the details you want for the wedding cake, down to the number of dots across the top of each tier. When walking up to the counter, you both launch into your meticulous planning, but the person stops you, stating that the business holds the right to not offer service based upon your marriage because it violates his or her religious beliefs.
This has become a reality for same-sex couples in certain states. In recent weeks, Georgia has come under a hail storm of condemnation for its “religious liberty” bill, which would allow businesses to deny services to people based on personal religious beliefs.
After Disney and Marvel announced that they would take their productions elsewhere, the CEO of Salesforce stated his intention to end the company’s Georgia programs. Millions of Americans weighed in on social media to express their outrage, and Governor Nathan Deal vetoed the bill.
Now Missouri is on track to make the same egregious mistake with its own version of the Georgia legislation.
SJR 39, sponsored by Sen. Bob Onder (R-Wentzville), presents the same kind of discriminatory policies that evoked so much backlash in Georgia.
How can such bigotry still make its way into our supposedly evolved society? During the Civil Rights Movement, the issue of private businesses turning away African-Americans was a cornerstone of the institutional bias the movement fought against. Now, 50 years later, we are seeing the same kind of close-minded thinking deployed to harm our fellow Americans.
Sen. Harry Byrd used passages from Leviticus and Genesis when speaking out in favor of whites-only establishments in 1967. As it was during the Civil Rights Movement, businesses in support of the resolution are trying to use religious text to provide a basis for their discriminatory behavior.
It is true that businesses are allowed to deny services to certain individuals who do not abide by their requests; no shirt, no shoes, no service is a common example. Using the aforementioned policy to justify SJR 39, however, ignores the purpose of federal “protected classes.”
Like it or not, the United States has a history of using attributes such as race and sexual orientation to discriminate against certain groups. While turning away an individual on the basis of behavior or state of dress is up to the business’ discretion, the same business has no ground when they are refusing service based on an innate characteristic like sexual orientation or gender identity.
Opposition to this resolution is not an attack on the Christian faith. If the legislation were to pass, many different classes of people could see a swift change in how they are treated at different businesses.
SJR 39 would protect the right of a Hasidic Jew working at a restaurant to eject a woman eating by herself, or the right for a Muslim man to refuse service to Christians and Jews. It’s time to realize that the kind of legislation currently making its way through the Missouri House is damaging and dangerous
to every citizen in this state.
In addition, if moral arguments don’t work, economic ones might. When Indiana enacted a similar religious freedom bill last April, the business backlash was immediate. Other states instituted travel bans, planned concerts and conventions were cancelled and companies like Salesforce, Apple and Angie’s List threatened to pull their business.
All together, Forbes magazine estimated that Indiana’s bill cost the city of Indianapolis alone approximately $60 million. Missouri simply cannot afford that loss.
Thankfully, some lawmakers are trying to help our state avoid that future. On March 7, a group of Missouri Democrats embarked on what would be a 39-hour filibuster in opposition to the resolution. The group spoke non-stop hour after hour because they knew that this resolution would only splinter an increasingly divided state. They knew we are better than this, that as Missourians, we should care about our gay brothers and sisters just as much as our straight ones.
Now it is time to turn that care into political action. Options include writing to your state representatives, particularly those who have declared support for the resolution, and state your strong opposition to their stance. Start petitions and make phone calls to educate your peers about the dangers of this legislation.
If the resolution does make it onto the ballot in November, cast a vote for equality and for unity. Vote no on SJR 39.