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Missouri bill similar to Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act

Freedom of religion or freedom to discriminate?

It is a topic swarming the nation right now as Indiana faces backlash for a bill it just passed.

The act prohibits laws that substantially burden a person’s religion, but those against this say now businesses can discriminate against gays and lesbians.

ABC 17 News looked through Missouri bills and found one similar to Indiana’s – House Bill 104.

It is sponsored by Rep Elijah Haahr, who says it would protect the right of students to exercise their religious beliefs and prevent public universities from discriminating against religious student organizations.

The LGBTQ community said it is a bill that would encourage discrimination – not freedom.

“Indiana has gone down the wrong path when it comes to protecting LGBT people. It is hurting their economy. It is hurting their community members. And that same impact will exist for students on college campuses in Missouri who are already a sensitive population to begin with and that same discrimination is going to happen on campuses if those two bills pass,” said Sarah Rossi, from the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri.

Althought Rossi could comment Tuesday, the full-time coordinator for the University of Missouri LGBTQ’s resource center was unable to give her thoughts on the bill.

She said since she is a state employee, she could not comment on political issues.

University of Missouri law professor Josh Hawley who helped Haahr write the bill declined an interview Tuesday.

However, in February he said, “On too many campuses, administrators have given student groups a choice: betray their deeply held religious beliefs or give up recognition as student associations.”

“We are the ACLU. We are in full support of freedom of religion. We are in full support of religious expression that is protected by the First Amendment. But religion should not be used as an excuse or a legal protection to discriminate against a group of people,” said Rossi.

Rossi said while LGBTQ is not written in either Indiana or Missouri’s bills, it is clear it discriminates against the LGBTQ community because other minority groups are already protected under state law.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence said they will now be clarifying the intent of the law.

“It would be helpful to move legislation this week that makes it clear that this law does not give businesses the right to deny services to anyone,” said Pence.

Meanwhile in Missouri the LGBTQ community is fighting so discrimination won’t happen here on Missouri campuses.

“All we can do is keep talking to legislators, keep talking to educators and keeping educating the public and hope the Missouri legislature doesn’t follow the same path as Indiana,” said Rossi.

Right now HB 104 is in the Senate.

As of Tuesday afternoon the Arkansas House of Representatives approved a “religious freedom” bill and is now headed to the governor’s desk for a signature.

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