State Of Faith: Religion In The Legislature
Religion is at the core of many debates in Missouri, some of the hottest topics in recent years have focused in on stem cell research, abortion and gambling. Even the Missouri Constitution recognizes a higher power:
"We the people of Missouri, with profound reverence for the supreme ruler of the universe, and grateful for his goodness, do establish this constitution for the better government of the state."
Those are the first words of the Missouri constitution. The people elected and charged with making decisions for the state often bring their faiths to Jefferson City. Thomas Jefferson stands on the steps of the Missouri Capitol in the city that carries his name. In an early 18th century letter to churches, Jefferson stressed the importance of a "wall of separation between church and state."
That passage led to the establishment clause in the first amendment of the constitution which says,
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
Those 200 year old words are a point of intense debate in present day.
"The Constitution doesn't say you have to remove religion from all aspects of political life. There are many who want that, that want a completely secular system. There are many who want more of an overt religious element into the system," Kurt Jefferson, professor of political science at Westminster College, said.
Whether or not religion ought to have a place at the Capitol, the fact is that religion is a big part of the legislative process. But lawmakers disagree on how much religion Thomas Jefferson would have wanted.
"If we had a sanitized government that had no influence of religion we would have a pretty sorry country. They have been intricately intertwined since day one and there is no constitutional separation of church and state," Sen. Delbert Scott said.
"I would argue at times we do need to concentrate on government and not impose our views or our religions on others through the use of government because that's not what our forefathers intended. They intended government to be government and not a religion," Rep. Leonard Hughes said.
Christians make up the largest part of the Missouri legislature and their influence is clear.
"There are a core group of committed Christians in the Senate that intend for their faith to impact the decisions we make and how we treat others and hopefully it'll make a decision. We're not here accidentally, we're here for a purpose and if you don't have that foundation of faith you're willing to buy anything at any price," Scott said.
"I believe they should meet outside of this building. I believe we are here to act as objective members of government and in order to be objective you can't have your religion come into play because everyone doesn't share the same religion for those that our government governs," Hughes said.