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Thursday, April 21, 2016

Missouri's "Religious Freedom" Bill Could Legalize Murder, Scholars Say

Posted By on Thu, Apr 21, 2016 at 6:37 AM

  • Image via Pete/Flickr
Ever wanted to kill someone but hate the idea of going to prison? Is that person gay? Missouri’s proposed “religious freedom” bill could be the answer to your prayers, according to a coalition of legal scholars.

The bill, Senate Joint Resolution 39, would prohibit those meddlers in the government from imposing a “penalty” on religious people or organizations who are moved by their “sincere religious belief concerning marriage between two persons of the same sex” to do some otherwise illegal stuff.

The Public Rights/Private Conscience Project at Columbia Law School points out in a newly released opinion that the term “penalty” is a broad one under Missouri law and is routinely interpreted to include prison time and fines for criminal offenses.

“Even the murder of a same-sex couple could be shielded from municipal and state prosecution if committed by a member of a ‘religious organization’ and motivated by a religious belief about marriage,” writes the coalition, which includes law school professors from Washington University and the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Now, there would be rules to this. You couldn’t just whack anyone at will. You’d first need to come up with a “sincere religious belief.” Smiting godless same-sex couples in the name of the Lord should provide plausible cover.

The scholars concede the killjoys in the U.S. Justice Department could potentially jam you up on federal hate crime statutes but only if it affects interstate commerce. So no crossing state lines and no using weapons not made right here in Missouri. (Buy local! We’re going to need those jobs when businesses flee to other states.)

Are you getting excited? The scholars are pretty sure Westboro Baptist Church, the group that protest soldiers’ funerals because of the United States’ permissive gay rights laws, is going to be especially stoked. Try convincing a judge that one of those true believers who, say, felt called to storm a same-sex couple’s wedding and block the ceremony wasn’t motivated by “sincere religious belief.”

“It could also protect Church members from prosecution if they harassed or even physically assaulted the couple or their guests,” the professors say.

Harassment. Trespassing. Murder. This is a versatile bill, people. So start making your list and practicing your lines — "It is my sincere religious belief..."

See also: Missouri House Fails to Vote on SJR 39 — For Now

We welcome tips and feedback. Email the author at or follow on Twitter at @DoyleMurphy.

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