State Of Faith: The Numbers

1 decade 8 months 4 days ago Monday, September 17 2007 Sep 17, 2007 Monday, September 17, 2007 2:43:15 PM CDT September 17, 2007 in News

Getting elected to the Missouri legislature is no small feat. It takes money, volunteers and, of course, votes. Faith is another factor that can make or break a campaign. Christianity dominates the Missouri landscape both socially and politically. But finding out just how many people of faith live in Missouri isn't easy. The U.S. Census Bureau hasn't collected any information on religious affiliation since 1936. And by law, it can't.

United States law "prohibits the census bureau from asking a question on religious affiliation," because "the Bureau of the Census is not the source for information on religion."

That's exactly why the graduate center at the City University of New York conducted more than 50,000 phone interviews in 48 states to determine the makeup of religion in America. The study found more than 75 percent of Missourians consider themselves Christians. Baptists and Catholics are the largest Christian denominations in the state.

KOMU conducted a survey of Missouri's legislature for this report and found Catholics make up more than 26 percent of the legislature. St. Peter's Cathedral sits right on the doorstep of the Capitol and its impact is felt every day. Lobbyists for the Missouri Catholic Conference are here whenever lawmakers are.

"We are charged by the bishops of the state of Missouri, being the leaders of the Catholic church in Missouri to go into the state capitol and into the halls of state government and do our best to ensure that public policy in Missouri reflects appropriate Christian values," Lawrence Weber, Missouri Catholic Conference Lobbyist said.

But the Catholic Conference isn't the only lobbying group vying for the souls of legislators. The Jewish Federation of St. Louis lobbies for Jewish causes and concerns.

"We try and provide them with information about what's happening during the session. We try to provide them with kind of up-to-date status reports on various bills that they are concerned with," Dave Winton, Jewish Federation of St. Louis lobbyist, said.

Practicing Jews make up less than one percent of Missouri's population, but are the largest non-Christian group in the legislature.

"It's the lens through which we see the world and every legislator brings a set of traditions and values to the job. But certainly it provides me with a set of values for which to make decisions," Rep. Rachel Storch said.

"If there is a small minority who represent a minority faith, I do think they may take into account that there may be times they have to speak up for that group even if they don't have any of those people in their district," Kurt Jefferson, Professor of Politcal Science at Westminster College, said.

15 percent of the people who responded to the statewide telephone survey said they have no religion at all. But those numbers don't translate to the legislature, where every lawmaker who responded to our survey said they were religious.

"I think in Missouri you do have a real transformation, and you have a transformation that does have as a significant variable, religion. It's not something that we can pretend doesn't exist, it's not something we can write away," Jefferson said.

Faith also plays an important part in being elected in Missouri.

"It's a very strong measure whether you have a strong faith or not and it probably depends on the area you are in. I think if you tried to run as an agnostic, if you will, you'd have trouble getting elected in either party," Sen. John Loudon said.

The influence of religion can mean different things for different lawmakers.

"Some decisions are made to pander to certain faith-based groups and some religious groups use faith in a very heavy-handed way. But then again, there are other faith-based groups that are out there that talk about faith because they want to integrate faith-based beliefs into policy making," Storch said.

"First of all, their responsibility is to their constituents. If an overwhelming majority of their constituents are of one particular faith they have to be cognoscent of that and recognize that," Jefferson said.

And as long as the people of Missouri continue to be religious, the legislature will continue to reflect those values. Our survey of Missouri lawmakers showed something else interesting: The breakdown of religions mirrors, almost to a percentage point, the population of Missouri.

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