Abortion, church property, education legislative priorities in 2006 for MBC
By Allen Palmeri
January 10, 2006
JEFFERSON CITY – Poised to obey the biblical mandate for believers to be salt and light, the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) is headed into the 2006 Missouri General Assembly with a moral values framework that is rising from a foundation of multiple cornerstone issues.
Rodney Albert, chairman of the Christian Life Commission (CLC) of the MBC, emphasized that the MBC agenda is tentative based on input he will be getting from his commissioners before a Jan. 19 meeting at the Baptist Building. CLC Lobbyist Kerry Messer, a 21-year presence in the halls of the Capitol, continues to play a prominent role in shaping Baptist public policy initiatives, Albert said, based on an earned level of trust within the CLC.
With lawmakers now into their first full week of work, the MBC is focused on helping to produce biblically sound law in at least three primary areas: abortion, eminent domain, and education. Other issues such as gambling, state stewardship of general revenue, judicial reform/accountability and homosexual rights will be emphasized within the overall MBC strategy, but the “Big Three,” as Messer and Albert refer to them, are expected to draw the most attention.
Speaking to messengers at the MBC’s annual meeting Oct. 25, Republican Gov. Matt Blunt identified three pro-life bills he would like to see lawmakers pass. The governor said he wants tax credits for pregnancy resource centers, protection for Missouri pharmacists who may be forced into providing “morning after” pills to patients and the elimination of public funds to teach sex education in Missouri’s classrooms for abortion providers like Planned Parenthood.
Messer said that while the governor’s proposal is sound, legislative leaders continue to talk about advancing several other pro-life provisions. Some ideas being discussed include defining fetal pain and cutting all state funding to any institution subsidizing abortions.
“We want to be highly selective on the things that are going to protect the most babies and make the most sense,” Albert said.
Now more than ever, developers are able to seize the property of churches thanks to Kelo v. City of New London, a controversial United States Supreme Court case. Albert called the opinion “disastrous,” and Messer said that church-going lawmakers in 2006 will be hearing from their church-going constituents on this issue.
“If we don’t get reform, our churches and our non-profit institutions are sitting ducks,” Messer said.
Sen. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, is seeking to amend the state constitution by either eliminating the provisions allowing for the use of eminent domain to end blight or by simply prohibiting the use of eminent domain for the purpose of economic development.
The catalyst triggering interest in reforming Missouri’s abused eminent domain law is the recent Kelo decision. In this case, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an activist decree stating that any private property may be taken by government to increase tax revenues.
“It’s ironic that our U.S. Supreme Court is now advocating the same type of tyranny that our nation was originally founded out of,” Messer said.
Church properties, which pay no taxes, are now open to developers wanting land for strip malls and other commercial enterprises. Without state statutory restrictions, eminent domain, which shares its historic constitutional foundation along with religious liberty, will become a serious threat to Missouri churches and their tax-exempt property.
As more Christians apply themselves to a true biblical worldview, reforms within the public education system that acknowledge the Christian heritage of America can begin to take shape. In Missouri, lawmakers will push for such things as prohibiting the censorship of historical documents in public classrooms because of references to God, emphasizing the right of students to pray in public school and authorizing the practice of teaching the Bible as a history textbook in public classrooms.
“Certainly religious liberty in the schools is something that needs to be addressed,” Albert said.
Messer said contemporary public education contains some dangerous philosophy.
“When our children are educated in a vacuum of their Christian heritage, it has a lifelong detrimental impact on their worldview,” Messer said. “Our cause for concern stems from the fact that there is no such thing as a spiritual vacuum. The enemy will always fill the void.”
The battle over the alternative theory of intelligent design is an example of this cause for concern. Teaching some type of alternative theory to evolution in Missouri’s public schools is a bill which is being championed by Rep. Wayne Cooper, R-Camdenton. When public education tried to create a spiritual void in science education, the enemy successfully elevated the theory of evolution, which is now being taught as absolute fact. Evolutionary teaching is counterproductive to a healthy culture, and our churches are straining to pick up the pieces, Messer said.
The MBC will continue to monitor, and if need be defend, the liberties of Missouri’s homeschool community in light of the governor’s decision Jan. 6 to name Stephen C. Morrow ombudsman for the Office of the Child Advocate for Children’s Protection and Services.
Morrow, a Southwest Baptist University (SBU) graduate and former vice president for Student Development at SBU, is being presented to the Senate for confirmation as a potential successor to Mary McEniry, a 2003 appointee by Democratic Gov. Bob Holden. According to a press release from the Governor’s Office, McEniry’s term has expired. McEniry had crafted a hostile report that recommended that the state register, regulate and set curriculum standards for homeschoolers, Messer said.
Messer told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he was pleased about the Jan. 6 announcement by the governor. If confirmed, Morrow would be eligible to serve until Dec. 7, 2010. However, Messer said he remains concerned about the language in McEniry’s official report that may still trigger threatening legislation.
Other moral issues that are legislative priorities for the MBC include, but are not limited to:
Retaining the $500 loss limit on Missouri’s casinos remains the top priority. The CLC is also preparing, if need be, to help defeat, for the second time, a proposal to infiltrate the family-friendly Branson area by placing casinos in Rockaway Beach.
As Christians get more involved with shaping the fiscal policy of Missouri, Messer said it becomes even more imperative to promote brisk economic development that will in turn improve the financial health of Missouri’s churches. The long-range plan, Messer said, would be to create a climate where local churches would have more resources (and perhaps more motivation) to care for the poor.
“Tax policy is nothing more than a secularized way of saying state stewardship of general revenue,” Messer said. “It’s not the state’s responsibility to be wasting as much money as we have been on programs that are the church’s responsibility.”
All eyes are on the Missouri Supreme Court as they consider two abortion cases. If they rule along liberal lines, the pro-life General Assembly will not be pleased, Messer said. Look for Gov. Blunt to sustain his characterization of judges as would-be legislators, out of control and out of step with Missouri’s majority values.
“It behooves us to support our governor’s commitment to only appoint judicially restrained judges,” Messer said. “It’s not only to our advantage, it is our responsibility to hold judges accountable when they bypass their judicial authority and assert activist decrees such as the Kelo case.”
Sen. Joan Bray, D-St. Louis, is sponsoring a bill that would prohibit discrimination against homosexuals. Messer said the biblical worldview will not tolerate this type of law. Better ideas would be to introduce bills forbidding homosexuals from serving as foster parents or to remove the politically correct special protections for homosexuality adopted in the 1999 state hate crimes law.
Albert summarized the spirit of what the MBC is trying to accomplish in the 2006 Legislature by pointing to the capability that Missouri Baptists have to influence public policy through Messer, who also serves as an MBC Executive Board member.
“Kerry Messer is the key component for our success as Missouri Baptists at influencing legislation this session,” Albert said. “His remarkable energy, legislative acumen and spiritual insight are great combinations for an effective voice at the Capitol. Without his presence, we would be blind, deaf and dumb. But with him there, the Baptist message will be zealously forwarded. He is a true warrior for the faith and we are blessed to have him on our team.”