MISSOURIBAPTIST CONVENTION, STATE’S LARGEST EVANGELICAL DENOMINATION JOINS LAWSUIT TO BLOCK CLONING BALLOT INITIATIVE
By Michael Whitehead
December 13, 2005
JEFFERSON CITY – The Executive Board of the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC), Missouri’s largest evangelical denomination with more than 680,000 Southern Baptist members in approximately 2,050 affiliated churches, have joined a lawsuit filed against Missouri’s secretary of state to try to block an initiative permitting destructive embryonic stem-cell research from appearing on the 2006 ballot.
The motion for leave to intervene in the suit was filed Dec. 14 in Cole County Circuit Court here by Michael Whitehead, a Kansas City attorney and legal counsel for the MBC. Convention President Ralph Sawyer, pastor, First Baptist Church, Wentzville, and Cindy Province, a Missouri Baptist bio-ethicist, are named as interveners in addition to the MBC Executive Board which represents all the churches affiliated with the convention.
The original lawsuit was filed Nov. 23 by the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Alliance Defense Fund in behalf of a Jefferson City-based group called Missourians Against Human Cloning, incorporated Nov. 17 by Larry Weber, executive director of the Missouri Catholic Conference. The lawsuit alleges the title of the proposed constitutional amendment is “unfair and deceptive” by claiming to “ban human cloning or attempted human cloning” when in reality it will permit a contentious cloning procedure.
“This bill is the Big Business Protection Act,” said MBC attorney Whitehead. “It pretends to prohibit cloning, but it just redefines terms so as to permit cloning.”
“The embryonic process that produced Dolly the sheep is called cloning by any honest scientist or ethicist. Human embryos from either SCNT or from in vitro fertilization, are made candidates for destruction under this bill.”
The MBC’s legal action follows a series of intiatives announced Dec. 13 by the MBC, with its $17 million annual budget, that are geared toward bringing to bear as many convention resources as possible to educate Southern Baptists throughout Missouri on the issue. In coming months there will be special mass mailings, articles in MBC statewide publications like its official newsjournal, The Pathway, as well as radio and billboard advertising. Pastors of Missouri Baptist churches are being urged to set aside May 7 as a Sunday to specifically preach on the issue.
Supporters of embryonic stem cell research have been working to collect the necessary 150,000 petition signatures needed to get their measure on next year’s ballot. The proposal would guarantee that federal standards for embryonic stem cell research and treatments would be binding in Missouri. It claims to ban human cloning, but it allows a controversial procedure known as somatic cell nuclear transfer in which the nucleus of an egg is replaced with the nucleus from something such as a skin or nerve cell. The altered egg then is stimulated to grow and researchers remove the resulting stem cells. The lawsuit and intervening motion asserts that such a procedure results in a cloned embryo and that the ballot proposal deceptively attempts to rewrite the definition of human cloning.
The lawsuit also challenges the ballot measure’s cost estimate approved by State Auditor Claire McCaskill’s office as being insufficient. The suit charges that the initiative would restrict the ability of government officials to eliminate, cut or withhold money appropriated in connection with embryonic stem cell research.
The MBC’s motion to intervene now unites the state’s largest evangelical denomination with the 1.1 million-member Missouri Catholic Conference.