I oppose SJR 39 not because I do not care about religious liberty but precisely because I view religious liberty as a fundamental human right. As a Baptist minister who works for a statewide Baptist network in Missouri (Churchnet), I cherish the strong Baptist heritage of standing for religious liberty. Thomas Helwys, one of the first Baptist leaders, in 1612 wrote the first English book calling for religious liberty for all people (as opposed to the usual argument of people just demanding freedoms for their own people). Early Baptists in the U.S. like Roger Williams and Isaac Backus preached this message of religious liberty for all. Thomas Jefferson’s usage of the phrase “wall of separation between church and state” came in a letter to Baptists in Connecticut because he knew the Baptists would appreciate that philosophy. Were it not for the tireless advocacy of Baptist preacher John Leland, the religious freedoms in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution might not exist. In that spirit, I urge you to vote against SJR 39. I see three key reasons why this legislation should be rejected on religious liberty grounds.
First, Missourians already enjoy strong religious liberty protections. In addition to the U.S. First Amendment, the Missouri Constitution includes a long section on religious freedom that offers many more details than the federal version. Additionally, Missouri in 2003 passed a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) based on the good federal model. Those claiming we need additional religious liberty legislation demonstrate they do not believe or trust in the U.S. Constitution, Missouri Constitution and RFRA. I instead have faith in the historic religious liberty protections that have served us well.
Second, true religious liberty must be for all. SJR 39 wrongly privileges one religious belief over others. If we truly want to carve out a religious accommodation for marriage-related businesses, then why only allow one religious belief (that of opposition to same-sex marriage)? What if a florist holds a religious objection to a divorced person remarrying? What if a baker holds a religious objection to an interfaith couple marrying? What if a photographer holds a religious objection to an interracial couple marrying? If we cannot justify allowing each of these exemptions (and I do not think we can), then we should not grant merely one. To allow the state to choose winners and losers among religious beliefs yields the government too much power.
Third, religious liberty should be a shield, not a sword. SJR 39 is a sword against same-sex couples. Using religious liberty to sanction discrimination against minorities runs counter to the very spirit of such protections. The First Amendment creates a delicate balance with two different—and sometimes competing—religion clauses. Too many voices today attempt to elevate one clause over the other. Some even seem to think their free exercise is harmed unless they are allowed to establish their religion. But the First Amendment requires balance between no establishment and free exercise. The Supreme Court previously ruled the Establishment Clause prevents legislation that favors religious accommodations that harm others, as SJR 39 would.
My faith teaches to “love they neighbor,” so I do not support discrimination in the name of religious liberty or otherwise. If you wish to advance religious liberty (and I hope you do), then I urge you to vote against this bad bill. Religious liberty remains too important to be perverted into a discriminatory weapon. Please vote NO on SJR 39!
Dr. Brian Kaylor is an award-winning author with three books on religion and politics. His newest book is Sacramental Politics: Religious Worship as Political Action (Peter Lang, 2015). He is the Generational Engagement Team Leader for Churchnet (a Baptist network in Missouri) and a Contributing Editor for Ethics Daily. You can find him online at BrianTKaylor@gmail.com and on Twitter.