Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Testimony in opposition to HB 104, the so-called "Student Freedom of Association Act"

Below is the substance of the testimony I gave this afternoon before the Missouri Senate Judiciary Committee in opposition to House Bill 104, which would, under the guise of protecting religious freedom, allow religious groups on state higher education institution campuses to discriminate against LGBTQ persons and others while still receiving public funding and other benefits. I was asked to testify by the Don’t Shoot Coalition and the Missouri ACLU.

The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing
this afternoon in Jefferson City.
Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, good afternoon.

My name is Mike Kinman and I am the Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, the Episcopal Cathedral in downtown St. Louis and for the Diocese of Missouri. I also spent 10 years as an Episcopal Campus Missioner at both Mizzou and Washington University.

As I looked over this bill, the language that jumped out at me was “substantially burdening the exercise of religion.” While I know that is a legal term with technical definitions, it took me back 10 years when I stood on the ground in Lui, a small village in what is now South Sudan. I stood with an amazing man named Bullen Dolli, who was the Anglican Bishop of Lui as he told me of the morning when soldiers came and dragged him out of his Cathedral and showed me the place on the ground where they had him dig his own grave and kneel in front of it with a gun to his head … all because he was a follower of Jesus Christ.

Bishop Bullen Dolli of the Diocese of Lui South Sudan.
Bishop Bullen died in December, 2010.
He told me of how in that moment he prayed out loud and he prayed for the souls of those who were holding the guns, and of how God turned their hearts and his life was spared.

Whatever we may disagree about in this room, I hope we can all agree that this is what “substantially burdening the exercise of religion” looks like.

As a follower of Jesus Christ who has been to Lui and stood with the Christians of South Sudan in their fight for true free exercise of religion, I am troubled when people of my faith equate exposure to diversity with religious infringement and persecution.

Our constitutional right to free exercise of religion was and is meant to protect people of faith against real burden, against real persecution – the kind of persecution some of them literally came to these shores to flee.

It is an offense to people of faith around the world who are under the specter of genuine persecution, whose free exercise of religion is genuinely substantially burdened, to pass legislation like this in the name of religious freedom.

Because bills like this which, intentionally or not, allow religious groups to isolate themselves from difference and allow they themselves to discriminate, promote the very conditions for the kind of extremism that is most threatening to true religious freedom. The kind of extremism that develops when our views are not regularly engaged and challenged by respectful people of divergent thought and practice.

I therefore urge you to defeat this bill for the sake of the very religious freedoms I believe we all – including the authors of this legislation – strive to protect.


I encourage you to contact your senator (particularly, if yours, like mine, is Joe Keaveny of St. Louis, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee) and let them know how you feel about this bill. 

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