Matthew Musacchia, Conservative group proposes ‘religious freedom’ legislation, Missourian

The Missouri Alliance for Freedom is pushing legislation for next year’s General Assembly that would “protect Missourians’ religious freedom,” according to a news release by the group.

A model bill, drafted by a constitutional law firm on behalf of Missouri Alliance, would “protect individuals, corporations, religious organizations and others who hold religious beliefs that do not comport with same-sex marriage proponents,” according to the news release.

The group hopes to enlist attorney general hopeful Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, as the bill’s sponsor.

Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis, has also said he’s interested in the bill, according to the news release. Neither Onder nor Schaefer returned calls asking for comment.

If passed, the bill would cover faith-based student organizations, clergy and businesses such as caterers and bakers, among other entities.

Ryan Johnson, president of the Missouri Alliance for Freedom, said the idea for the bill originated after the Supreme Court ruled in June that same-sex couples had the right to marry.

“I think a lot of questions were raised in the minds of, you know, lawmakers and activists everywhere,” he said. “So we kind of put our nose to the grindstone to try to figure out what some of the possible scenarios were.”

Johnson said he believes the proposed legislation would have substantial support. He cited a survey of 831 likely voters commissioned by Missouri Alliance and performed by Remington Research. Some questions and answers, according to the news release, included:

In your opinion should churches, synagogues, mosques, or other religious property such as a schools be forced to host same-sex weddings or events if it violates the religious convictions of the religious institution?
Yes…………………………….15%
No……………………………..79%
Unsure…………………………6%
In your opinion, do you believe the government should be able to force a private business, like a baker or a florist, to provide services for a same-sex wedding if it violates his/her religious beliefs?
Yes…………………………….24%
No……………………………..71%
Unsure…………………………6%
Still, Johnson said he expects vigorous opposition for the bill.

“It’s not a done deal just because we have some pretty solid sponsors,” he said. “It’s gonna probably be a pretty long hard slog throughout the 2016 legislative session.”

Sarah Rossi, director of advocacy and policy for the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, said that, at first glance, the proposed bill was “completely objectionable.”

“Indiana opened the same door last spring — and when they did that, it did not go well for them,” she said, referring to a law passed by that state’s legislature last year. Opponents said the bill would have legalized discrimination against gay, lesbian and transgender people.

“The American public doesn’t support the use of religion to discriminate,” she said. “Government officials and businesses that open their doors to the public shouldn’t get to pick and choose who they serve. That’s not religious freedom, that’s discrimination.”

Johnson disagreed with a similar statement.

“Freedom of religion is just that,” he said. “You can exercise your religion wherever you decide to put it. If you try to constrain that, it’s not really freedom, is it?”

Full article here: http://www.columbiamissourian.com/news/state_news/conservative-group-proposes-religious-freedom-legislation/article_8d914f6e-5a37-11e5-a463-8f5d721097d9.html