I visit the State Capitol when the Missouri General Assembly is in session, but less than 10 percent of my time is involved talking to lawmakers about legislation that will impact Missouri Southern Baptists. Since no Baptist speaks for all Baptists, I generally limit my activity to what I call the “Big Five” issues: the sanctity of life, the family, advocating for victims of sex/human trafficking, promoting adoption/foster care and protecting religious liberty.
Why those five? Because they are issues where Missouri Baptists are in wide agreement and have publicly addressed according to Scripture. Since I have no money and offer no gifts, my activity is limited to encouraging lawmakers to pass God-honoring laws predominately in these five areas.
As a gospel missionary, I urge lawmakers to seek the Scriptures for answers – and I pray for them. Unlike professional lobbyists who burst into their offices, often screaming and threatening to have them voted out of office, I approach them on principle. I also have a testimony that I want to winsomely share.
The Pathway, with its estimated readership of around 60,000, affords me the opportunity of telling Missouri Baptists what is happening. God demands that we be good citizens and we cannot do that if we are not informed, especially when we are not informed by a biblical worldview perspective. Ignorance and indifference are poor defenders of freedom.
Which brings me to the curious case of Ron Calzone. A Missouri businessman and follower of Christ, Calzone is a model citizen. He takes the time to visit the State Capitol and thoughtfully engages lawmakers on potential laws, especially those involving constitutional questions.
Liberal opponents mock him – often in the media. Now, they have gone a step further, using the Missouri Ethics Commission as a political weapon by filing a complaint demanding that Calzone register and file regular reports just like paid, professional lobbyists. The Commission action is nothing less than state-sponsored harassment. Mind you, Calzone has never been paid to be a lobbyist and he has never given gifts to politicians. He, like you and me, is simply a citizen who appeals to lawmakers on principle.
When a Cole County judge ruled the Missouri Ethics Commission complaint against Calzone was illegal, Calzone retaliated by filing a federal lawsuit against the Commission. A bold move, one that sent liberals into a tizzy and got the attention of Missouri public policymakers. Calzone wanted to make it clear that the state has no right to require lobbyist registration when a citizen is neither being paid, nor giving gifts to office holders.
But in a shocking 2-1 decision, the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis ruled against Calzone. The dissenting judge, David Stras, appointed to the court by President Donald Trump, wrote an opinion so scathing that at least six of the 11 judges assigned to the Eighth Circuit vacated the earlier 2-1 ruling and – in a stunning turn of events – granted Calzone a re-hearing April 19 in St. Louis. This time in front of all 11 judges.
In his dissent, Stras wrote: “By sweeping so widely, Missouri law endangers the free exchange of ideas. Indeed, a political adversary, an unscrupulous government official, or even a legislator tired of being held accountable could simply submit a complaint to the Commission accusing a politically active citizen of lobbying – that is, speaking out – without first registering as a lobbyist.”
Think about that. This wrong-headed ruling could inhibit our right to influence the laws that affect our lives. It strikes at the “free speech” clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In short, it threatens our freedom.
So what could be the impact on Missouri Southern Baptists if Calzone fails? For starters it could force me to register as a paid lobbyist – even though I spend less than 10 percent (which the law limits non-profits) of my time talking with lawmakers (some as editor of The Pathway). It could also seriously impact my ability in sharing the gospel and speaking to lawmakers about passing laws that glorify God and help the people of Missouri. Missouri Southern Baptists would largely be silenced.
But there is more. It could have a chilling effect on your ability to discuss proposed legislation with your state representatives and senators. How can they represent you if they do not know how you feel and what you need? The answer is they can’t.
The Apostle Paul appealed to Roman authorities concerning his Roman citizenship. Now Ron Calzone is appealing to American authorities concerning our First Amendment rights. Let freedom ring!