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Elizabeth Reiner Platt
Associate Director, Public Rights/Private Conscience Project
April 12, 2016
Fifteen law professors, most from universities in Missouri, issued a memorandum today arguing that Missouri’s Senate Joint Resolution 39, which would amend the Missouri constitution to create new and very broad religious liberty rights, is unconstitutional. The Missouri House Committee on Emerging Issues has scheduled a hearing on SJR 39 for this afternoon.
SJR 39 would give many religious organizations, individuals, for-profit entities, and state workers the right to violate municipal antidiscrimination ordinances and contractual obligations that conflict with their “sincere religious belief concerning marriage between two persons of the same sex.”
The amendment would protect a wide range of discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, and government services against same-sex couples and supporters of marriage equality. For example, the amendment would allow:
- A religious hospital to violate a “good cause” provision in a collective bargaining agreement and fire a nurse who expresses support for marriage equality;
- An adoption agency that has a contract with the city of St. Louis to violate that city’s antidiscrimination ordinance and refuse to work with same-sex couples;
- A private restaurant chain to break a contract to cater a wedding when it learns that the couple is of the same sex; and
- A judge to ignore the U.S. Supreme Court and the Missouri Code of Judicial Conduct and refuse to marry a same-sex couple.
The memo, which was spearheaded by the Public Rights/Private Conscience Project at Columbia Law School, concludes that SJR 39 violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment by accommodating religion in a way that meaningfully harms other Missourians. It was signed by professors from Washington University in St. Louis, University of Missouri-Kansas City, and Saint Louis University School of Law.
“SJR 39 does not just disrupt the careful balance between religious and secular rights enshrined in the Constitution,” said Columbia Law School Professor Katherine Franke, director of the Center for Gender & Sexuality Law, “it’s also unconstitutionally vague. It’s impossible to predict the range of otherwise prohibited behavior that would be given absolute immunity under this amendment.”
Elizabeth Reiner Platt, associate director at the Public Rights/Private Conscience Project, said SJR 39 “is not about religious freedom, which is already very well-protected by the robust liberty of conscience provision of the Missouri Constitution. It merely codifies a right to discriminate.”
Read the memorandum here.