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Eric Greitens running for Missouri governor

Eric Greitens announces his candidacy into the 2016 race for Missouri governor on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015 at Westport Plaza in Maryland Heights. He appears with his wife, Sheena, and son, Joshua. Photo by Huy Mach, hmach@post-dispatch.com

This post has been updated.

JEFFERSON CITY • Eric Greitens, a Republican candidate for Missouri governor, voiced opposition Tuesday to the controversial Senate Joint Resolution 39.

Greitens, an ex-Navy SEAL, said in a statement that while he supports religious freedom, he doesn't support SJR 39.

"It is a fact that people of faith are under attack in America, and our religious liberties are being threatened," Greitens said. "That is why I respect and applaud the proponents of SJR39 for taking action to protect religious freedom. However, I don't believe this legislation is the right approach. I oppose SJR39 because I believe that while it is well-intentioned, it could unintentionally threaten our economy and job creation."

SJR 39 would ask voters whether to grant greater legal protections to clergy, churches and wedding vendors who decline to participate in same-sex marriage ceremonies. It would also grant protections to certain "religious organizations" — including hospitals, colleges and other entities with religious ties — potentially leading to widespread denial of services, opponents say.

After a 37-hour filibuster by Democrats in the Senate, Republicans used their majority to force a vote on the legislation last month. It passed along party lines and is now in the House Emerging Issues Committee.

The statement from Greitens, sent to the Post-Dispatch by his campaign Tuesday evening, comes a day after a St. Louis Public Radio report that said the Greitens campaign didn't respond to two inquiries asking about his stance.

On Tuesday, Greitens said in a statement to The Missouri Times that he supported both religious freedom and non-discrimination, but didn't say if he supported the resolution.

“As a Navy SEAL, I was proud to serve in a U.S. Military which protected religious liberty and ensured non-discrimination,” Greitens told The Missouri Times. “As Governor, I’ll use this same common sense conservative approach to protect the religious liberties and freedoms of all Missourians.” 

The mixed message sent ripples through social media Tuesday afternoon.

The three other candidates for the Republican nomination — former Missouri House Speaker Catherine Hanaway, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder and businessman John Brunner — have all voiced support for the resolution.

Attorney General Chris Koster, the leading contender for the Democratic nomination, also opposes SJR 39.

A vote in committee on SJR 39 could come as early as Wednesday when the House Emerging Issues Committee meets.

Here is Greitens' full statement:

It is a fact that people of faith are under attack in America, and our religious liberties are being threatened. That is why I respect and applaud the proponents of SJR39 for taking action to protect religious freedom. However, I don't believe this legislation is the right approach. I oppose SJR39 because I believe that while it is well-intentioned, it could unintentionally threaten our economy and job creation. Here in Missouri, we are already 47th in job growth and 42nd in wage growth. We simply cannot afford more policies from Jeff City that have the potential to kill jobs.

This debate doesn’t have be a choice between protecting religious liberties or protecting Missouri jobs. We can and we must do both, but it will take real leadership. As Governor, I will protect the religious liberties of all Missourians, and ensure that pastors, rabbis, priests, and all members of the clergy are never forced to perform any ceremony that goes against their religious beliefs. At the same time, I will work everyday to make Missouri the top state in the nation to create and protect good-paying jobs.

As a Navy SEAL, I was proud to serve in a US Military which protected religious liberty and ensured non-discrimination. As Governor, I will use that same common sense conservative approach to protect the religious liberties and freedoms of all Missourians.

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Jack Suntrup covers state government and politics for the Post-Dispatch.