Suppose you own a small patch of woodlands not far from town. You decide to build a nice chapel there – the Chapel in the Woods — which you rent out for weddings.
Then suppose you are approached by a homosexual or lesbian couple who want to rent your chapel for their wedding. Because of your religious convictions on that subject, you decline to do so.
If that were to happen in certain other states today, you could face ruinous fines for discrimination, even be put out of business. To ensure that doesn’t occur in Missouri (although nothing is a certainty these days), the state Senate recently passed Joint Resolution 39, a proposed religious freedom amendment to the state Constitution. It is now being considered by the House of Representatives.
In brief, the resolution states that pastors, churches, religious organizations and those who provide wedding-related goods and services cannot be penalized “for acting in accordance with a sincere religious belief concerning marriage between two persons of the same sex.”
Such conscience protections used to be fairly routine, such as those enabling nurses to refuse to participate in abortions. But this one has ignited a firestorm of opposition. Democrats tried to stop the resolution with a Senate filibuster, but it is Big Business that is applying the most pressure to defeat it.
AT&T, MasterCard Inc., Monsanto Co., and Dow Chemical are in the forefront of a coalition of dozens of businesses that is pressuring lawmakers to sideline the resolution, and the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry has announced its opposition as well. Kansas City is feeling heat from the NCAA and the Big 12 Conference. Critics of the proposed amendment claim that it legalizes discrimination, and would do serious damage to the state’s economy.
Sounds like these companies and organizations could use a refresher course on the Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution, especially the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of religion in America — and that includes “the free exercise thereof.”
It is in those four words that the growing battle over religious rights in this country is being fought today. Is religion just a matter of personal beliefs, or do citizens have the right to “exercise” their religious beliefs, including in the moral arena?
Secularists have no problem with your religion – so long as you practice it behind the closed doors of your church. Just don’t try to take it into the public square, which is fast becoming a religion-free zone in many places in America.
But a First Amendment that is restricted to belief alone wouldn’t be worth the paper it’s written on, and it certainly isn’t what the Founding Fathers intended.
The Joint Resolution must next clear the House, after which a proposed constitutional amendment would be placed on the November ballot for a vote of the people. That would appear to be what its vocal opponents fear the most.
Big Business, which not only bankrolls the gay agenda but throws its weight around to squelch any opposition to it, long ago abandoned the neutrality that should be its proper stance in the culture wars. These companies are not only showing their utter contempt for the religious rights of Missourians (also known as their customers), but for their ability to amend their Constitution to protect those rights, if they so desire.
That’s not the kind of public image I would want for my company if I were in their shoes.
Doug Kneibert is the former editor of the Sedalia Democrat.