Indiana has drawn national attention for its religious freedom restoration act, and now Missouri lawmakers have two smaller scale bills on the table. The two bills, which are in the Missouri Senate and House could take away the ability of colleges and universities to police discrimination by religious student organizations.
House Bill 104 would prohibit schools from placing special restrictions on religious student organizations that make its members hold their religious beliefs and follow their religious standards of conduct.
The Student Government Association at the University of Missouri – Kansas City has already taken a stance against the bill. Andrew Miller, the Vice President of SGA, said the bill will take away from efforts their school has put many years of work into.
“We’ve done a good job over many, many years building up a culture of tolerance and acceptance and looking out for our fellow students,” Miller said. “The ability of the university to police discrimination, to have that taken away is really harmful to our students.”
SGA President Juan Bettancourt said the bill creates a conflict with the current university policy that UMKC student organizations must follow.
“If you look at our discriminatory clause, it includes gender expression, gender identity, and religious affiliation that all organizations that are seeking official status at UMKC must abide by that clause,” Bettancourt said. “So we’re looking at some possible conflicts in that legality.”
The University of Missouri student body is also looking at taking a stand on the bills. Payton Head, MU Student Association President, said there has been a lack of communication between state legislators and Missouri college students on these two bills.
“When I spoke to UMKC, when I speak to other people at other institutions in the state, nobody had really heard of somebody saying ‘Ok, this is something that we’re doing,’” Head said. “So I would encourage legislators and anybody who is going to do something that directly affect the students here in Missouri that they come to the students first.”
State Sen. Kurt Schaeffer sponsored a senate version of this bill that is identical to the house version, but it never came out of committee. Schaeffer’s office did not grant KBIA’s multiple requests for an interview for this story. The statehouse has passed the house version of this bill, and it now sits in a senate committee.
House sponsor, republican representative Elijah Haahr of Springfield, said in an email that his goal for the bill is to protect student organizations from the enforcement of an all-comers policy. He said this would allow Greek and political organizations to keep the selective criteria for membership. Haahr said he’s brought this bill to the floor because of a Christian student group being denied recognition at all 23 campuses of the California State University system last year. He also pointed out this bill is different from Indiana’s RFRA because it only applies to student organizations.
Haahr’s bill has passed the House and has been sent to the Senate where it was referred to committee, and a hearing was held on April 7th.