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5 Questions: Senator Dr. Bob Onder on SJR39


Sen. Dr. Bob Onder, R-O’Fallon, is sponsoring SJR39, which was filibustered for a record-setting 39 hours this past week. The filibuster came to a halt with the rare motion of PQ being used to halt the debate, and the senate passed the measure. If and when the House passes the SJR, it will go to the ballot, where Missourians will be asked if religious organizations should be required to participate in same-sex wedding ceremonies.


The Missouri Times: What does the bill do?

Sen. Dr. Bob Onder: SJR 39 asks the voters of the state of Missouri whether they wish to protect pastors, churches, religious organizations, and some individuals from being penalized by government for their sincere religious beliefs about marriage. This bill is entirely defensive; it protects from persecution by government. In the area of private business, it would protect business people like Melissa Klein in Oregon who was fined $130,000 by the state and sued out of business because she refused to be commandeered into participation in a religious ceremony that violated her conscience informed by her religion.

TMT: Is SJR39 like other RFRAs?

Onder: SJR 39 is a shield and not a sword. And it is very unlike controversies over Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRAs) in states such as Indiana. RFRAs are very broad, and one can see why some might feel threatened by them. This bill is carefully targeted to protect those now vulnerable while avoiding unintended consequences. It is very much in the spirit of tolerance and pluralism embodied in our Bill of Rights.


TMT: Discuss the use of a PQ.

Onder: The motion for the previous question cut off debate. In this case the Senate allowed the filibustering Democrats full and fair debate, 40 hours of it, before using the PQ. The PQ is a necessary counter-balance to the filibuster. It is hypocritical to say, “We can filibuster every week, but you can never use the PQ.” We are elected to do the people’s business. If the business of the Legislature is brought to a halt via the use of the filibuster, the use of a PQ is a possible response.

TMT: Is the SJR discriminatory?

Onder: In making such charges, the opposition is basically saying that they no longer believe in freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, or freedom of association. Remember, in the wedding vendor cases, the plaintiffs are not looking for services, they are looking for lawsuits.

What the opposition is saying to businesspeople like Melissa Klein is: violate your conscience or the iron fist of government will come down on you. That is not tolerance; that is tyranny.

TMT: What do you think the public response will be?

Onder: The issues of protecting pastors, religious organizations, and small business people enjoy 70 to 80 percent support among the public. I believe Missourians will do the right thing and pass SJR 39 overwhelmingly.