Tuesday, March 29, 2016
Ed Emery: SJR 39 is not discriminatory
This week an NPR station in Kansas City invited me to join a radio program that included two members of the Kansas City business/tourism community and myself. The subject was the Religious Freedom (conscious protection) Resolution – Senate Joint Resolution 39, sponsored by Sen. Bob Onder and cosponsored by Sen. David Sater and myself. (SJR39 has been passed by the Senate 23-7 and is awaiting action by the Missouri House.) The radio debate was about 15 minutes long and reminded me of the conflict between the Tories and the Whigs of early American history.
The Tories, you may recall, resisted any separation from England, preferring the assurances of the King’s provision and protection to the individual liberty and economic freedom sought by the Whigs. The love of liberty prevailed, and the Declaration of Independence was composed and issued. The colonists that signed that document and those that armed themselves in support were not unaware of the economic and military measures that the King could take against them. The blockade of the port of Boston was just one of the “Intolerable Acts” that the King took in hopes of bringing the colonies back into submission.
It was clear during the NPR program that the Tories’ arguments of yesteryear are being used today. They fear another “Boston blockade” of Kansas City or any other Missouri city. They threaten economic disaster to those who would stand against the elitist oligarchy of five Supreme Court justices. The oligarchy redefined marriage and thereby overturned the expressed will of the people in thirty states. Somehow they discovered same-sex marriage in the Constitution even though the state had neither created nor sustained it. At least King George’s actions might be explained in that he reigned in the age of the divine right of kings. No one will find a divine right of the judiciary anywhere in the U.S. Constitution.
Let’s hope the Missouri House recognizes the value of religious liberty for which America’s founders pledged their lives, fortunes, and reputations (sacred honor). I believe the founders stopped there only because there was nothing further to pledge. There must have been some in that day who advised of economic disaster with the loss of King George’s favor, but the patriots’ pledge remained. For them, no price was too great for liberty. We know what Patrick Henry’s response would have been: “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”
If the House passes SJR39, then the matter will be put before all Missourians in the form of a ballot question. We will find out then just what price Missourians put on Liberty.
In case you are not fully informed as to the elements of SJR39, following are portions of a Capitol Report written by Senator Onder to explain and defend it:
“…The resolution asks whether voters of the state wish to protect pastors, churches, religious organizations and some individuals from being penalized by government for their sincere religious beliefs about marriage. The bill is entirely defensive in that it protects from persecution by government. 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 U.S. 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 that 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 religious faith.
Senate Joint Resolution 39 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. Freedom Restoration Acts protect any and all religious beliefs and shift to government the burden of showing both a compelling state interest and that such interest is being pursued by the least restrictive means. With RFRAs, if the government fails on either front, the law is unenforceable against the claimant. So, despite what opponents will say, this is a quite 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.”