State Of Faith: Church And State
The separation of church and state continues to divide politicians in the United States and in the Missouri legislature. However, there is one group of faithful men who do a job many believe is a cornerstone of state government. Each day in the Capitol starts the same way, with a prayer. And each day House Chaplain James Jackson does his part to put meaning in the morning.
"What they do is very very important, if affects us all. People of faith, people who are agnostic, people that don't lean on a particular faith. It doesn't matter, what they do affects all of our lives," House Chaplain Rev. James Jackson said.
Jackson and his fellow chaplains believe a little prayer can go a long way when it comes to making the right decisions in Jefferson City.
"Faith means that they understand the value that God has given to us as a people. And they try to express that value in what they do and what they pass," Senate Chaplain Rev. Carl Gauck said.
Missouri employs three legislative chaplains who work part time when the House and Senate are in session.
"It gives a sense of a little bit more peace, it gives a sense of hope. That's a very stressful job and I think that any time we begin to ask or seek someone higher than we, then we can actually get some things accomplished," Jackson said.
Writing a prayer each day isn't an easy task. Gauck, a retired Lutheran pastor, spends four to six hours each week doing just that.
"I want to make sure it's saying something to what is going on and try to make them contextual in terms of whatever happens in the senate here as well as the health of the senate family and staff members," Gauck said.
Prayer is a daily ritual in the Capitol among many legislators in the privacy of their offices. But they don't all agree on how much, and which kinds of prayer should be in public.
"I think having a chaplain helps remind you each day to kind of temper your views a little bit. That you want to start and think 'ok,' God established this nation, he established this building, and be careful what you do with it," Sen. John Loudon said.
"There's not always diversity in the prayers that are delivered at the dais when we start session every day. As far as I know, in the three years that I have been here, we have had one rabbi deliver a prayer, and that was the only non-Christian," Rep. Judy Baker said.
Rachel Storch is one of three Jewish lawmakers in Jefferson City. She said everyone can take something from the daily messages.
"They're very nice prayers and they represent our spirit and our common goals of doing good for the people of this state," Rep. Rachel Storch said.
The prayers are supposed to be non-denominational, so they can include many faiths in a diverse legislature.
"They kind of said, if you want to do a good job, you make them non-denominational. And that was the direction from the leadership here," Gauck said.
Precedent for prayer and government goes back hundreds of years. The Continental Congress began each session with a prayer during a time when they were deciding the fate of a young nation. But it took a Supreme Court decision to make prayer permanent. The high court decided in the landmark 1983 case Marsh v. Chambers, that state governments could publicly fund prayer in their legislatures. Chief Justice Warren Burger wrote the major opinion in a six to three decision.
He said prayer was allowable because it is a, "tolerable acknowledgment of beliefs widely held among the people of this country."
And for chaplains like Gauck and Jackson prayer is also about connecting people to their government.
"I have always believed that if a church is in a community then we ought to be a part of what is happening in that community. We ought to have a voice in that community. And if asked to serve in that community, then we ought to, if we can, be a part of what goes on in that community," Jackson said.
The third legislative chaplain is a Catholic priest. All three are part time positions. The chaplains make between two and twelve thousand dollars a session for their work.