Missouri legislature advances bill to protect religious student groups

House Bill 1518 would stop Missouri’s state colleges and universities from discriminating against religious student groups on certain grounds.

Human Rights Campaign issued a press release condemning the legislation.

On March 7, the Missouri House of Representatives passed a bill, HB 1518, that would prohibit public colleges and universities from taking action against religious student groups for adhering to their own beliefs. 

The bill text states: “No public institution of higher learning shall take any adverse action against a belief-based student association or an applicant to be recognized as such: (a) Because such association is political, ideological, or religious; (b) On the basis of such association’s viewpoint or expression of the viewpoint by the association or the association’s members; or (c) Based on such association’s requirement that the association’s leaders be committed to furthering the association’s mission or that the association’s leaders adhere to the association’s sincerely held beliefs, sincere practice requirements, or sincere standards of conduct.”

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Missouri State Rep. Brad Hudson, the sponsor of the bill, told Campus Reform: “My bill simply would codify in statute what the First Amendment and existing case law already allows.”

“Students should not have to retain legal counsel in order to protect their First Amendment rights. Unfortunately, actions taken in the past by some public universities have shown that there is a need for this type of legislation. . . . Common sense legislation such as this will protect students and taxpayers. Seventeen states have passed similar laws and I’m looking forward to Missouri becoming the 18th,” he continued.  

In response to the proposed legislation, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) put out a press release stating: “The dangerous bill opens the door to discrimination against LGBTQ+ students with taxpayer funds and is the latest attack on the community at the hands of extremist Republican legislators seeking to advance their anti-freedom, anti-equality agenda.”

HRC described itself in its press release as “the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) civil rights organization,” and also included in its release a statement from HRC official Sarah Warbelow, who said that “religious freedom should not be distorted to advance discriminatory measures.”

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Campus Reform has previously reported that HRC has “released policy proposals that included denying accreditation to religious colleges that do not have ‘nondiscrimination policies and science-based curricula.’”

Campus Reform reached out to HRC and the University of Missouri for comment. This article will be updated accordingly.