Late Night at the CapitolApril 15, 2016
On Tuesday night I spent eight hours in a cramped room in the basement of the Missouri Capitol. I showed up for the House's only public hearing on SJR 39, a controversial religious objection bill that would create a constitutional amendment allowing marriage-related businesses to refuse to serve same-sex couples. Scheduled to start at 5 p.m., the hearing didn't start until about 8:05 due to a long debate on the House floor. Then the hearing lasted for five hours!
The wait wasn't as bad as it could've been as I had some good conversations with others and thanks to free pizza provided by House Democrats. The pizza was rightly free for everyone there regardless of their political persuasion on the bill. So at least the night started off with an agreement against discrimination!
Once the hearing finally started, poor leadership of the Emerging Issues Committee allowed the bill's sponsor, Senator Bob Onder, to use one-quarter of the allotted time for the public hearing. He'd already received lots of time in the Senate (and media). Additionally, with the room filled beyond capacity with lots of people standing (and others in another room watching a live webcast), it should've been obvious there were lots of members of the public wanting to testify.
When the public finally got to talk, a disappointing divide quickly emerged. Proponents were primarily conservative Christian leaders and their lawyers. Opponents were primarily business leaders and LGBT activists. This divide made it seem religious liberty was on one side and business interests and civil rights on the other. I found myself frustrated by both proponents (for making religious voices seem discriminatory) and opponents (for making religious voices seem unneeded). Although the hearing was set for four hours, legislators remained longer to allow more people to speak (and anyone could turn in written testimony).
Shortly after 12:30 in the morning, I finally got to share my thoughts. I turned in my two-page testimony and offered a slightly shorter three-minute version. I focused my remarks on how I opposed the bill as a Baptist minister because it's not really religious liberty legislation. (I made arguments similar to what I've outlined in posts here and here.) A couple legislators posed questions, and I enjoyed the interaction with them. In addition to turning in a written copy, I also dropped off a copy the next morning for each representative in their office.
Baptist News Global ran a nice article yesterday highlighting key aspects of my testimony. The headline captures my point well: Baptist says ‘Religious Liberty’ Bill Threatens ... Well, Religious Liberty. I hope my testimony will help legislators better understand religious liberty and ultimately vote against this bad bill.