Missouri-Rep -Elijah-Haahr-R-638x424

 

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo - A new bill proposed by a Missouri lawmaker would allow Christian groups to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation on college campuses while still retaining all the perks and privileges of being a student group.

 

The bill, HB 104, introduced by State Rep. Elijah Haahr (R-134-Springfield) prohibits universities from “burdening” any religious organization by denying it recognition based on its beliefs and practices:

 

No public institution of higher learning shall take any action or enforce any policy that denies a religious student association any benefit available to any other student association, or discriminate against a religious student association with respect to such benefit, based on that association’s requirement that its leaders or members adhere to the association’s sincerely held religious beliefs, comply with the association’s sincere religious observance requirements, comply with the association’s sincere religious standards of conduct, or be committed to furthering the association’s religious missions as such beliefs, requirements, standards, or missions are defined by the association or religion upon which the association is based.

 

"Religious freedom is a fundamental part of Missouri, and we value our religious beliefs," said Stephanie Perkins, Deputy Director of PROMO, Missouri's statewide LGBT advocacy organization. "But those beliefs don’t allow us to discriminate against others in a student group. Freedom means for everyone, and no student should be turned away from opportunities to succeed and expand their university experience on campus just because of who they are."

 

Many universities have nondiscrimination policies that ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and require all student groups to abide by those policies or forfeit funding and use of campus spaces.

 

Think Progress reports that over the past ten years, many Christian groups, such as the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and Christian Legal Society, have tried to challenge these policies on various campuses by requiring that candidates for officer positions not identify as gay, because homosexuality is against their religious beliefs. When campuses then revoke their privileges, they claim that it’s a violation of their religious freedom, but so far, courts have upheld universities’ “all-comers” policies — as in, all who come must be free to participate equally.

 

Several states have attempted to pass similar discriminatory laws. Legislation in Tennessee passed the legislature in 2012 but was ultimately vetoed by Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, citing government overreach. The following year Virginia passed a similar version into law making it legal for university students to form religious or political groups and freely discriminate against any person not committed to their mission while still collecting college funding.

 

The fate of the Missouri bill remains unclear. Haahr’s bill could easily pass in the GOP-controlled state legislature, where Republicans also enjoy a veto-proof majority in both chambers over Democratic governor Jay Nixon.

 

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