Jewish Light Editorial

A new religion was formed last week in Missouri. It’s called Onderism, and it’s defined by a belief that businesses should be able to discriminate against same-sex couples in the name of religious freedom.

The religion, which we’ve named after Sen. Bob Onder, R-O’Fallon, the principal voice advocating for the religion, was birthed by action in the Missouri Senate. The adoption of Senate Joint Resolution 39 requires that the proposal be placed on the statewide ballot this year in either August or November.

SJR 39 passed the Senate despite a noble and robust 39-hour filibuster by opponents and despite opposition from businesses such as Monsanto and Dow Chemical, as well as local institutions such as the Barnes-Jewish Hospital Foundation. 

In a statement, Monsanto called on “other businesses and the agricultural community to join the company in speaking out against discrimination here in our home state of Missouri and around the world.”

The resolution mirrors those in other states that have similarly tried to “protect” businesses and institutions from having to provide services to same-sex couples. The language on its face would allow a vast array of businesses providing products and services relating to weddings and beyond to reject patrons and deny equal treatment.

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Other large businesses, not all of which are outspoken on social causes, have objected when movements like Onderism have reared their heads in other states. Salesforce and Apple opposed a similar bill in Indiana, and Dell and Twitter did so in Georgia.

Companies have recognized not only the discriminatory impact of these bills, but the potential financial ruin they can bring. Before Indiana modified its initial efforts in this regard, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) threatened to bolt from the state. Convention business has become far shakier in the Hoosier State as a result of the legislature’s conduct.

Despite bills like SJR 39 being bad for the business climate — risking loss of LGBTQ-supportive companies and those that support and frequent them — they’re at their heart punitive. While purporting to protect personal religious expression, they create different classes of citizens and allow businesses to reject patrons based on innate characteristics.

Does this sound familiar? It should, as Onderism is really an offshoot of the religious movements of yore that led to the denial of services and legal protections based on the discrimination du jour in the name of personal faith.

Think we’re exaggerating? As recently as the mid-20th century, racist voices were still using religious excuses to favor both segregation and denial of services to African-Americans. 

Take, for example, “Take Your Choice: Separation or Mongrelization,” a book written by Theodore G. Bilbo — a two-term governor of Mississippi and two-term (1935-47) U.S. senator. ThinkProgress quoted Bilbo’s book in a 2014 report: 

“ ‘Purity of race [Bilbo wrote] is a gift of God. … And God, in his infinite wisdom, has so ordained it that when man destroys his racial purity, it can never be redeemed.’ Allowing ‘the blood of the races [to] mix,’ according to Bilbo, was a direct attack on the ‘Divine plan of God.’ There ‘is every reason to believe that miscegenation and amalgamation are sins of man in direct defiance to the will of God.’ ”

So now here we are again, with legislators in Missouri and elsewhere carrying forward the less-than-proud tradition of finding a class of people against whom they can voice their less-than-admirable goal of unequal treatment.

Though it’s probably sufficiently obvious that we we don’t have to say it, we will for plain effect: But for existing anti-discrimination laws, the approach articulated by Onder and those who supported SJR 39 could be applied with equal force to blacks, Latinos and Asians, to Jews, Muslims and Catholics, to the blind, deaf or developmentally disabled. 

In other words, the holes in the law that still allow bias against LGBTQ individuals are being ripped even wider by this referendum-enabling legislation.

Alas, Onderism is just another variation on a tired and disingenuous argument about freedom. Americans are 100 percent free to pray in their religious institution of choice and to voice their religious opinions virtually anywhere but in certain government-run contexts.

That’s not enough for the adherents of Onderism, though. They insist that individuals and groups should have the right to open their businesses to the public, derive all the benefits that society offers mercantile entities, but then still pick and choose which Americans can be banned from their stores.

In every era, there have been those who would use the law to create a fiction that they are morally superior to others. 

Onderism is the latest manifestation of that tendency. We’re disappointed that in Missouri, its supporters continue to hide prejudice behind the faux garb of religious liberty.