JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Forty-one days after the Senate set a record for the longest filibuster in state history, Republican gubernatorial candidate Eric Greitens has made a statement on SJR 39 to The Missouri Times saying he supports “religious liberties and freedoms of all Missourians,” while also supporting “ensured non-discrimination.”
“As a Navy SEAL, I was proud to serve in a U.S. Military which protected religious liberty and ensured non-discrimination,” said Greitens in a statement to the Missouri Times. “As Governor, I’ll use this same common sense conservative approach to protect the religious liberties and freedoms of all Missourians.”
Greitens is the last gubernatorial candidate to speak publicly about the policy, after not returning St. Louis Public Radio‘s requests for comment Monday. The silence has surprised many, including panelists on Sunday’s episode of This Week in Missouri Politics.
In light of the statement, advocacy groups on both sides of the aisle have maintained that they want clarity on his stance.
“Eric’s silence on the issue of religious freedom is deafening,” said Ryan Johnson, president of Missouri Alliance for Freedom, an enthusiastic supporter of the measure. “If he wants to lead, let him do so now by taking a firm position on SJR39.”
“This is one of the biggest issues in our state legislature as well as nationally,” Laura Swinford, executive director of Progress Missouri, a group strongly in opposition to the measure, told the Missouri Times. “It’s about civil rights. It means millions of dollars to the state. I would expect someone in his position to take a stand. I’m disappointed that he has not.”
Greitens’ three Republican competitors and possible Democratic opponent have all made clear statements along party lines on their position on SJR 39.
- Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder testified in support of the potential ballot measure last week, telling a packed hearing room he believed it was important to “let voters have a voice.”
“SJR 39 boils down to a simple question, whether Missourians should be given the chance to decide whether the Missouri constitution should be amended to provide vital protections for all Missourians’ religious liberties,” Kinder said. “This is not about discrimination, as opponents are trying to spin it. It is purely about letting voters have a voice on reserving a zone of protected activity based on their sincere religious convictions.”
“This zone of religious liberty is a foundational principle of America… a morally, legally, philosophically, and ideologically neutral principle available to all comers,” Kinder continued. “SJR39 is but another piece of the fabric of religious liberty that everyone in America enjoys, whether Christian, Jewish, Mormon, Muslim, Hindu or atheist.”
- Businessman John Brunner will be present at the Capitol Tuesday afternoon for a religious liberty rally on the front lawn, emailed supporters asking them to join him in supporting the resolution.
“In Missouri, our General Assembly continues debate on Senate Joint Resolution 39,” Brunner emailed supporters Tuesday. “This proposal, if approved by the citizens of Missouri, will protect the rights of clergy and religious leaders, and religious institutions to practice their religion. It would also protect those in very select businesses by safeguarding the freedom of those who hold sincere religious beliefs not to participate in a marriage ceremony that violates their beliefs.
“SJR 39 would be put to a vote of the people of Missouri. As you can imagine there are some who do not want the citizens of Missouri to have a voice, nor a vote on this important issue. Special interest groups do not trust the people to make this decision on their own. They want to forget the Constitution and stop SJR 39. They want to stop the will of the people.
“On SJR 39, I say let “We The People” decide what’s best for this state, not the special interests.
“These battles and many others await the next Governor. This is why I am running. As Governor I will fight for the entire Bill of Rights, and I would encourage you to attend the Rally for Religious Liberty in Jefferson City on today at 2:30 pm. Stand with Liberty with me today.”
Brunner’s email is the second addressing the matter, the first being in early April.
“For too long, liberal Democrats, Chris Koster and Jay Nixon have attacked our values,” Brunner emailed supporters in a fundraising email on April 7. “They oppose religious liberty and protecting all Missourians from having to violate their faith. We know that the leftist opposition is strong, but we are stronger. We cannot afford to back down in this critical time. I’m always going to stand with Missourians for religious liberty. Let’s show the extremists that we stand for the rights of all to follow their faith.”
- Former House Speaker and Assistant U.S. Attorney Catherine Hanaway has also lent her support to SJR 39 and applauding the measure’s shepherds.
“The free exercise of religion is the first freedom guaranteed by the Bill of Rights,” said Hanaway. “I support protecting the rights of religious groups and individuals, and believe that Missourians should get to vote on initiatives that impact their churches, charities and communities. I commend Senator Onder’s efforts in crafting a provision that will serve as a shield for religious groups, and not a sword to be used against any Missourians. I eagerly await for the House to finalize their version. As Governor, I will not tolerate discrimination of any kind, and will make both non-discrimination and religious liberty core values of my administration.
“I commend those Republican State Senators who stood up for all Missourians’ First Amendment rights,” said Hanaway. “Missourians’ religious liberties should not be sacrificed on the altar of political correctness. Today is a step in the right direction for protecting every Missourian’s freedom of religion.”
- Presumptive Democratic nominee Chris Koster is adamantly opposed to the measure, believing it would half Missouri as similar measures have detracted business from other states.
“Last year the State of Indiana tried to pass a measure that was similar to SJR39, which was discriminatory toward that state’s gay community,” said Koster in a social media video. “And almost immediately they saw a negative impact economically in that state. They lost $60 million in convention business that pulled out right away. Angie’s list one of the big internet companies, decided not to site their headquarters in the state, losing a thousand jobs and a $40 million headquarters there in Indiana. This Missouri general assembly should be looking for opportunities to enhance our states business environment, not driving people and job opportunities away.
“…SJR39 places discrimination against Missouri’s gay community directly in the states constitution,” Koster continued. “But those of us who are trying to build a better economy are doing everything we can to attract the best and brightest 27-year-olds from all over the nation to come and live and work here. These young people have a choice between Boston and Austin and Charlotte and Denver, but we’re trying to bring them here to St. Louis and Kansas City and towns across Missouri. I believe that flying a flag of discrimination over this state’s business community is the wrong way to attract the best and the brightest to help us build a stronger future.”
Greitens’ statement was far more vague than those of others in the race, and wasn’t definitive. One reason for the ambiguity may be due to one of his many out of state supporters. American Unity, a pro-gay marriage Republican super PAC, funder Paul Singer has been a longtime supporter of Greitens’ nonprofit, The Mission Continues.
Further, the vagueness may be due to his friendship with Jennifer Pritzker of the Tawani Foundation. She is a billionaire retired Lieutenant Colonel from the United States Army who donated $50,000 donation to his campaign. Pritzker has been a proponent of integrating transgendered individuals into the military. She donated funds to found the transgender studies program at the University of Victoria and is also the first openly transgender billionaire in the United States.
Additionally, Joe Klein, author of Charlie Mike – a book about Greitens and a fellow veteran, calls Greitens a “pro-gay rights, pro-immigration reform Republican” at the 2:25 mark in an October 2015 interview with MSNBC.
Additionally, as the business community and the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry have come forward in opposition of SJR 39, some of Greitens’ donors, including Jerald Kent, were revealed also in opposition.
“Regardless of who his donors are, this is an issue that affects thousands of families across this state,” said Swinford. “It hurts Missouri on so many levels.”
The Missouri Democratic Party called Greitens out on Tuesday, calling his refusal to comment “cowardly.”
“It is clear that Eric is hiding something. The question is, is he hiding his true beliefs from his donors on the coasts or the people of Missouri?” said David Turner, a spokesman for the Missouri Democratic Party. “Eric loves to talk about leadership, but on this important debate about the rights of Missourians, he’s simply shrunk away and is hiding behind a refusal to comment. Missourians can see through his cowardly hypocrisy.”
UPDATE: 7:00 p.m.
Greitens’ campaign emailed a full statement, found below, lending opposition to the measure:
It is a fact that people of faith are under attack in America, and our religious liberties are being threatened. That is why I respect and applaud the proponents of SJR39 for taking action to protect religious freedom. However, I don’t believe this legislation is the right approach. I oppose SJR39 because I believe that while it is well-intentioned, it could unintentionally threaten our economy and job creation. Here in Missouri, we are already 47th in job growth and 42nd in wage growth. We simply cannot afford more policies from Jeff City that have the potential to kill jobs.
This debate doesn’t have be a choice between protecting religious liberties or protecting Missouri jobs. We can and we must do both, but it will take real leadership. As Governor, I will protect the religious liberties of all Missourians, and ensure that pastors, rabbis, priests, and all members of the clergy are never forced to perform any ceremony that goes against their religious beliefs. At the same time, I will work everyday to make Missouri the top state in the nation to create and protect good-paying jobs.
As a Navy SEAL, I was proud to serve in a US Military which protected religious liberty and ensured non-discrimination. As Governor, I will use that same common sense conservative approach to protect the religious liberties and freedoms of all Missourians.
Rachael Herndon was the editor at The Missouri Times and also produced This Week in Missouri Politics, published Missouri Times Magazine, and co-hosted the #MoLeg podcast. She joined The Missouri Times in 2014, returning to political reporting after working as a campaign and legislative staffer.
Rachael studied at the University of Missouri – Columbia. She lives in Jefferson City with her husband, Brandon, and their two children.