Business Groups Opposing Religious Freedom Resolution

The Missouri Chamber of Commerce is opposing SJR 39, a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow churches and wedding venders to decline participation in same-sex wedding ceremonies. The Chamber’s opposition, like that of Monsanto and others, focuses on the wedding vendor provisions in the resolution.  The NCAA has also expressed serious concerns with the proposal. The MCC supports SJR 39, focusing especially on how the proposal ensures clergy and church facilities would be protected from government penalties when declining to solemnize or facilitate same-sex weddings. 

The Missouri Senate has passed SJR 39, which is sponsored by Senator Bob Onder (R-Lake St. Louis). The General Assembly is on Spring Break until after Easter, after which the House is expected to review the proposal, consider possible amendments and decide how to proceed. For more see Kansas City Star, St. Louis Post-Dispatch and this editorial, also in the Post-Dispatch. Stay tuned for more.

Missouri Senate Stalls this Week While Pro-life and Other Bills Languish

The Missouri Senate this week has been in slow motion following the filibuster last week of SJR 39. Meanwhile, pro-life legislation prohibiting the donation of fetal tissue and addressing the disposition of fetal remains has yet to be debated fully by the MO Senate. Also remaining to be debated is a bill that would outlaw abortion solely on the basis of a prenatal diagnosis of Down’s syndrome.  Time will tell if the Senate gets moving again, or if the filibuster will influence what bills are heard going forward.

MCC Opposes Signage Requirement for Churches

This week the MCC voiced opposition to HB 1764, a bill that would require churches to post signs on their premises regarding concealed weapons.

Currently under Missouri law, concealed carry permits do not authorize persons to carry a concealed firearm into a police office, a polling place, a corrections institute, a courthouse, a bar, an airport, a school, a university, a child care facility, a riverboat gambling operation, an amusement park, a stadium, a hospital, or a church.

In some instances, including churches, the permit holder can obtain permission to bring the weapon on to the premises. In most cases, however, these institutions or locations arenot required to post signage regarding conceal and carry weapons. It is up to the permit carrier to know the law and abide by it.

HB 1764, however, would require churches to post such signage, while making no such requirement for the other institutions. The MCC said the proposal unfairly targeted churches for the signage requirement and indicated this may violate the religious freedom protections of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

In general, government can require churches to comply with laws of general applicability when there is a compelling government interest. A local ordinance requiring fire exit signs, for example, would be an appropriate requirement for churches as well other places where the public gathers.

However, there is no compelling interest at stake in HB 1764. The MCC noted that Second Amendment gun rights are important, but so also are the religious freedom protections found in the First Amendment. Stay tuned for further developments.

MCC Supports Religious Liberty Amendment

The Missouri Catholic Conference testified this week in support of SJR 39, which is sponsored by Senator Bob Onder(R-Chesterfield).  This proposed constitutional amendment would protect the right of Churches to practice their faith according to their beliefs. The proposal would also ensure that businesses, such as photography companies, are not forced to directly participate in a same-sex wedding.

Under SJR 39, the state may not penalize members of the clergy who decline to perform, solemnize or facilitate a marriage ceremony because of their religious beliefs concerning marriage between two persons of the same sex.  The proposal also ensures that Churches are not penalized when they decline to make their facilities available for a marriage ceremony that does not accord with their religious beliefs about marriage between two persons of the same sex.

The MCC testimony observed: “In light of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Obergefell, which legalized same-sex marriage, it is only natural and completely reasonable that the people of Missouri would wish to reaffirm the right of churches to follow their beliefs in deciding whom they will marry.” See MCC Testimony for more.

SJR 39 is moving quickly and is now on the Senate Calendar for debate. Stay tuned for further developments.

General Assembly Convenes for 2016 Session

Wednesday the Missouri General Assembly convened for its 2016 session. House Speaker Todd Richardson (R-Popular Bluff) set out some legislative priorities in an address to the Missouri House. See this St. Louis Post-Dispatch article for more on Richardson’s address. The new President Pro Tem of the Senate, Ron Richard (R-Joplin), skipped the customary opening speech and just told Senators to get to work.

Ethics reform will be a top priority for legislators. Numerous bills and proposed constitutional amendments have been introduced. Some of the ideas being proposed include: banning gifts from lobbyists to legislators; limiting campaign contributions and requiring a “cooling off” period before a legislator leaving office can become a lobbyist.

House Speaker Richardson is indicating he is not keen on spending large chunks of time on Right to Work. Last year the legislature passed a Right to Work bill but Governor Nixon vetoed it. The legislature failed to override the veto. See this St. Louis Post Dispatch article for more.

In the wake of the videos last summer showing officials of Planned Parenthood talking about the trade in fetal body parts, legislators are determined to prevent such practices in Missouri. Senator Bob Onder (R-St. Louis) has filed SB 644. (See “Pro-life Bill Addressing Planned Parenthood Videos Set For Hearing” article for more details.) The Missouri Catholic Conference (MCC) will be working to pass pro-life bills like Senator Onder’s legislation.

Over the past several years, Missouri has refused to expand Medicaid despite the offer by the federal government to cover all of the costs. The expansion would enable more of the working poor to gain health coverage. The MCC supports both reform and expansion of Medicaid, but action in 2016 seems unlikely.

Both Republicans and Democrats appear interested in reforming the criminal justice system, including measures that would help ex-felons start new lives after serving their time in prison. (See “Criminal Justice Reform is in Vogue” for more details.)

In addition to considering hundreds of bills on a wide variety of topics, legislators must pass a state budget for fiscal year 2017, which begins July 1. This year the MCC will seek continued funding for services that help women choose life over abortion and assistance for refugees who have fled persecution in other parts of the globe.

These are just a few of the issues the MCC expects to surface in 2016. But each year there are surprises – issues that emerge that were not on anyone’s radar screen at the beginning of the year. Check the MCC Update each week for the latest developments

8th Circuit Court Rules For Religious Liberty

Bucking the trend set by other federal circuit courts, a unanimous panel of the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last week in favor of religious organizations Heartland Christian College and CNS Ministries in their challenge to the HHS contraceptive mandate.

The court ruled that compelling participation in the mandate by threat of severe financial penalty is a substantial burden on their free exercise of religion, and forcing them to comply with the accommodation regulation offered by the Department of Health and Human Services was not the least restrictive means for the government to accomplish its objective of providing contraceptive coverage.

The ruling sets up a conflict with other appellate court rulings, which will require resolution by the U.S. Supreme Court.  The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, for example, ruled earlier this summer that the mandate, and the HHS accommodation, did not excessively burden the religious liberty of the Little Sisters of the Poor.  That case was appealed to the Supreme Court.

Last week’s 8th Circuit Court decision makes it more likely the Supreme Court will resolve the issue next term.

Protect Religious Freedom Around the Globe! Contact Congress

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is urging Congress to pass legislation (H.R. 1150) that sets out U.S. responses to the increasing persecution of religious minorities in other countries such as Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Nigeria and Myanmar (Burma). The legislation includes provisions expanding foreign assistance and counter-terrorism efforts and reauthorizes the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. For more details and to respond to the USCCB alert click Help Protect International Religious Freedom.


Posted: May 29, 2015

Justice Sotomayor Grants Injunction for Little Sisters of the Poor

On Tuesday, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor granted a temporary injunction blocking enforcement of the HHS mandate as it applies to the Little Sisters of the Poor, a religious order that provides healthcare to the elderly poor in thirty different homes throughout the United States.

The mandate, which goes into effect January 1st, would have required the sisters to facilitate through their health plan the provision of contraceptives and abortion inducing drugs to their employees. Nineteen of twenty non-profits organizations challenging the HHS mandate and its “accommodation” provision have been granted injunctions against its enforcement. For more on the status of this and other litigation, click here.

Meet the Little Sister of the Poor

Posted: January 3, 2014

The Fortnight for Freedom Begins

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) have called upon Catholics nationwide to participate in the Fortnight for Freedom to pray for religious liberty, and for the sanctity of life and marriage. The Fortnight runs from June 21st until July 4th and is an opportunity for prayer and fasting to ask for divine intervention for the protection of our religious liberties. Read Baltimore Archbishop William Lori’s op-ed in the Baltimore Sun regarding this issue.