Sen. Wayne Wallingford Is Having A Really Hard Time Defending His Religious Freedom Bill

Mar 5, 2014 at 8:45 am
Sen. Wayne Wallingford
Sen. Wayne Wallingford

Last week, Republican state legislator Wayne Wallingford introduced his religious freedom bill to the Missouri Senate. We're willing to guess that he's starting to regret his timing.

That's because last Wednesday -- two days after his bill hit the Missouri Senate floor -- Arizona governor Jan Brewer vetoed a similar, extremely controversial religious freedom bill in her own state; like Wallingford's, the Arizona law would have enabled businesses to refuse service to customers based on the business owner's religious beliefs.

Since then, Wallingford has struggled mightily to defend his bill, SB 916, from the same criticisms that tanked other religious freedom bills in Arizona in Kansas.

See also: Missouri Bill Would Allow Businesses To Refuse Service If "Substantially Motivated" By Religion

During an interview with KMOX's Charlie Brennan last week, Wallingford made his oft-repeated claim that his bill isn't discriminatory toward LGBT individuals or same-sex couples.

"There's nothing in my bill that talks about gays, lesbians or discrimination," he told Brennan.

Later in the interview, Wallingford offered examples from other states where business owners -- including a wedding photographer and a florist -- had their religious beliefs burdened by same-sex couples.

But things got interesting when Brennan asked Wallingford if he could cite a similar case from Missouri.

"No, not that I'm aware of," answered the two-term senator from Cape Girardeau. "I was in the United States Air Force for twenty-five and years and I believe in preemptive attacks. I don't want to wait until it happens to do something about it."

See also: Former Police Officer Jeffrey Leveque Charged with Harassing Couple over Gay Pride Flag

Of course, Wallingford isn't calling for an actual airstrike on gay couples shopping for flowers, just a legislative one. His bill would give business owners the right to refuse service if they felt "substantially motivated" by religious belief. As for the good senator, he's still flummoxed by critics accusing his bill of facilitating discrimination and religious bigotry.

"My bill is a simple, a common sense bill," he told KTRS (550 AM) morning radio host McGraw Milhaven on Friday.

During that interview, an exhausted-looking Milhaven challenged Wallingford on that claim, repeatedly asking if, for example, the bill would protect the bigotry-loving Westboro Baptist Church in denying service to an interracial couple.

"If they denied them service, and the people they denied....[felt] they were being discriminated against, then that party who believes they are being discriminated against could take the business to court," Wallingford said.

This answer failed to impress Milhaven. Wallingford was basically arguing that his bill doesn't discriminate since it would burden the interracial or LGBT couple with taking the Westboro Baptist Church to court. There, a judge would apparently decide just how "substantially motivated" and "genuine" the Westboro Baptist Church is in its religious beliefs.

Milhaven concluded the interview by admitting, "I am more confused now than I was when we started this conversation."

There is one more problem with Wallingford's claim that his bill doesn't target same-sex couples for discrimination. According to the Post-Dispatch, Kerry Messer, president and founder of the Missouri Family Network, supports SB 916 and was involved in introducing it.

Fun fact: The last time we heard from Messer, he was one of the plaintiffs suing Governor Jay Nixon for allowing same-sex couples legally married in other states to file federal taxes.

Follow Danny Wicentowski on Twitter at @D_Towski. E-mail the author at [email protected]