In the last two days Wallingford and his bill endured widespread backlash from the public and fellow senators concerned that the bill could provide legal cover for denial of services to same-sex couples.
Wallingford on Wednesday said he did not mean for the bill to be taken that way, and that the legislation should be taken at face value.
On Wednesday, Wallingford posted on his Facebook page that his bill "is simply a measure to improve the Religious Freedom Registration Act by allowing individuals to have access to RFRA protections in private lawsuits, rather than having to sue the state for relief after their rights have been violated. This bill is meant to ensure that the government is not able to force individuals to violate their religious beliefs, and will provide protections to all. This is not a bill about discrimination. Indeed, it specifically says that the law shall not be construed to provide a defense in discrimination cases."
In a story published on the Kansas City Star's website Tuesday, Wallingford was quoted as saying his bill "is trying to provide a defense in those types of instances." The newspaper reported that Wallingford pointed to examples such as a case publicized in Washington state, where a florist would not provide flowers for a same-sex wedding and where a baker in Colorado refused to make a cake for a party celebrating the wedding of two men.
About a decade ago, the federal government passed legislation that only covered the exercise of religious freedom at federal agencies, leaving the decision to do so in each state up to their own governments, Wallingford said.
"I wasn't aware of it until now," he said. "I'm surprised other people didn't raise the flag on that, as well. But for some reason it wasn't."
Religious freedom is guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution, and "it seems like it's coming under attack more frequently," he said. "At least in Missouri, we want to make sure that we follow the Constitution for religious freedom."
Senate Bill No. 916 is "loosely" based on Arizona Senate Bill No. 1062, the "anti-gay bill" that would allow religious beliefs to be a basis for refusing service to gays and others.
" ... Some of our language is similar, but not to the extent that Arizona went," Wallingford said, which goes "way, way, way further" than his when it speaks of nonreligious assemblies or institutions, religion-neutral zoning standards, suitable alternate property and unreasonable burden.
Mike Masterson, chairman of the Cape Girardeau County Democratic Central Committee, said the attack on freedom of religion is somewhat a recreation of Jim Crow laws. Stating his opinion as an individual and not for the local Democrats, he wrote in an email to the Southeast Missourian that "There is no war on religion as is being asserted by Mr. Wallingford. To me, this type of proposed legislation is camouflaging bigotry behind the shield of religion."
A.J. Bockelman, executive director of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights organization PROMO, was quoted in a Kansas City Star article saying the bill is "a legislative attempt to legalize discrimination toward LGBT individuals."
Wallingford said he has heard some speak in opposition of the legislation who have not actually read the bill, in which sexual orientation is not mentioned.
"If you read it, and not try to put in all sorts of words that aren't in there -- it's not saying they'll still agree with it -- but I don't think [it's as] inflammatory as they initially tried to make it."
Wallingford pointed out a section of the bill that states "Nothing in this section shall be construed to authorize any government authority to burden any religious belief," and "Nothing in this section shall be construed to establish a defense to a civil action or criminal prosecution based on federal, state, or local civil rights law involving discrimination ..."
"It's not prohibiting anyone from objecting," he said of the bill.
The legislation is likely to be more controversial than others, but Wallingford said he enjoys the challenge of moving such a bill through the system.
Senate Bill No. 916 is a few weeks from it's third reading, and there is some time to pass it through, but maybe not enough time.
"We're cutting it close, but there's always a possibility," he said.