November 26, 2015

Missouri religious groups weigh in on Syrian refugee debate

Missouri lawmakers are pressing Governor Nixon to look for ways to discourage the entry of Syrian refugees to the state. The state’s religious groups are watching as that debate grows more political.

The Catholic Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis (Wikimedia Commons)

The Catholic Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis (Wikimedia Commons)

Missouri Catholic Conference Executive Director Mike Hoey says to totally block refugees would be an “extreme position.”

“I understand the anger and I understand the fear, but when we’re angry and we’re fearful we’re not necessarily operating out of our best place,” said Hoey. “We need to check the people over carefully but we still need to allow some Syrian refugees in. I think it’s the humanitarian thing for us to do.”

The Catholic bishops of Missouri, in a statement, said refugees go through up to two years of a vetting process to enter the U.S.

The Missouri Baptist Convention does not take a position on refugee policy, said its Team Leader for Communications, Rob Phillips, but it calls on all sides in that debate to pray.

“For peace in Syria and other war-torn countries, we should pray for wisdom for our leaders who have some very difficult decisions to make, we should pray for the safety and protection for the refugees who are fleeing war and genocide, and I think we should pray also for a civil debate when we discuss the complex issues relating to human dignity and border security,” said Phillips.

The state’s House and Senate budget committees will hold a hearing Tuesday morning on state financing of refugee assistance. We will stream that hearing live at

Pope Francis hits, misses some of what Missouri lawmakers wanted him to talk about

The first ever papal address of Congress was delivered this morning. Pope Francis touched on issues that are important to both Democrats and Republicans in the roughly 1-hour speech.

Senator Roy Blunt (left) shared on Twitter a photo of the Pope presenting a handwritten and illustrated St John's Bible for the Library of Congress.

Senator Roy Blunt (left) shared on Twitter a photo of the Pope presenting a handwritten and illustrated St John’s Bible for the Library of Congress.

Senator Roy Blunt (R) had hoped the pope would speak about religious freedom and tolerance, and he did.

“It is important that today, as in the past, the voice of faith continue to be heard for it is the voice of fraternity and love, which tries to bring out the best in each person and in each society,” said Francis.

Some lawmakers had hoped the pope would spend time talking about immigration, and a great portion of the address was on that issue.

Francis said the world is facing a refugee crisis of a scale not seen since the Second World War. He seemed to reference immigration from Mexico to the U.S., saying, “On this continent, too, thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children?”

He called on people to remember the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” and in referencing that passage from the Gospel of Matthew, segued into speaking about the Catholic Church’s position on abortion and the death penalty.

“The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of development,” said Francis.

The pope said no more that seemed a direct reference to abortion, but of the death penalty he said he is convinced its abolition, “is the best, since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes.”

Pope Francis to Congress 2

Pope Francis is introduced to a joint session of Congress.

Francis spent a great portion of his address speaking about climate change. He referenced his encyclical letter Laudato Si, in which he called for, “a courageous and responsible effort to ‘redirect our steps,’ and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity.”

“I am convinced that we can make a difference and I have no doubt that the United States and this Congress have an important role to play,” said the pope.

Eastern Missouri Congressman Blaine Luetkemeyer, who had earlier told Missourinet he wanted to see the pope keep his comments on religious guidance, did not offer objection to what the Catholic Church’s leader had to say about climate change in the address.

“Today marks an incredibly historic day as Pope Francis is the first pope to ever address Congress,” Luetkemeyer said in a statement. “As a lifelong member of the Catholic Church, I was honored to sit in the House chamber as Pope Francis spoke about the importance of family and our shared goal of putting people first so everyone has an opportunity to get ahead.”

“I have great faith that the Holy Father will continue to spread his message of peach and hope all over the world and he will lead our worldwide community forward as we confront new challenges in a continuously changing world,” Luetkemeyer continued.

Senator Blunt called the pope’s message, “hopeful, and his personal example inspiring. Congress should always remember that what we do here is more important that who we are.”

Northern Missouri Congressman Sam Graves said he was, “humbled to have had the opportunity to hear the Pope speak on the House floor. As a nation, we share so many of the same principles he touched on today, including the value of family, the need to protect life at every stage, and the responsibility to care for the most vulnerable among us.”

“The pope’s historic visit to Congress reinforces our shared goal of giving everyone the opportunity to pursue a better life,” added Graves.

All Missouri counties will now issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples

The Schuyler County Recorder of Deeds says it will issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.  It was the only such office in Missouri not complying with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that legalized gay marriage in all fifty states. The highest court announced the decision two weeks ago. Some Missouri counties started issuing licenses that day, while others took longer.

The Schuyler County Recorder of Deeds declined to send a press release to Missourinet, but the Schuyler County Times reports the office will comply, even though it’s against the Recorder of Deeds’ religious beliefs.

A.J. Bockelman, PROMO Executive Director

A.J. Bockelman, PROMO Executive Director

A.J. Bockelman with Missouri LGBT advocacy group PROMO says the right decision was made.

“Where we had the holdouts, it was because of their own personal conviction. When you look at the requirements of their job, this is a basic requirement of their job,” said Bockelman. “If I came in and said I’m not going to do this entire section of my job,’ I would expect to be out of a job. Ultimately, all the Recorder of Deeds came to that same decision.”

“Now that the implementation has come through, we look back on it and I think many of these clerks are simply going to say ‘this is not that difficult of a process.”

Even as the final county office agreed to comply with that ruling, at least two Missouri judges say they won’t conduct any marriages following the U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Judges are prohibited from discriminating in whom they marry. If they choose not to marry same-sex couples, that means they also can’t marry couples of the opposite sex.

Bockelman says the action makes him scratch his head.

“The bigger concern is that as judges they’re saying because I don’t believe in the validity of a decision made by the U.S. Supreme Court, I’m choosing to set aside my duties in this realm. I really think it comes back to a question of judicial ethics,” said Bockelman. “What other things are they necessarily applying in rendering a decision about other issues when they are setting aside entire precedents set by the highest court.”

Bockelman says he doesn’t believe some judges opting out of marrying couples is going to be a major barrier for couples.

SLU law Professor, Missouri Catholic Conference leader don’t expect suits seeking same-sex marriages in churches

Some religions don’t recognize same-sex marriage, and some think now that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled same-sex marriage is legal, those churches could be targeted by lawsuits seeking to make them recognize or even perform such unions.

Saint Louis University Law Professor Marcia McCormick

Saint Louis University Law Professor Marcia McCormick

Saint Louis University Law Professor Marcia McCormick thinks it’s unlikely such a suit would survive a motion to dismiss, which is generally one of the first steps in response to a lawsuit.

“There’s clearly a first-amendment right that religious organization have to not be compelled to do things that interfere with their religious beliefs,” McCormick told Missourinet.

She said it is likely such a suit would have to be brought by a member of the church being sued.

“Generally speaking, people can only bring a lawsuit if they’ve personally been injured by the actions of the defendant, and it’s hard to see how someone outside of the Catholic church or even outside of a particular parish could be injured by a decision of the church unless they want to get married by that church, and really do want to get married by that church, and have asked and have been denied,” said McCormick.

Missouri Catholic Conference executive director Mike Hoey agrees with McCormick in that he doesn’t expect such lawsuits to be filed.

Missouri Catholic Conference executive director Mike Hoey

Missouri Catholic Conference executive director Mike Hoey

“I think that’s kind of a hysterical reaction,” said Hoey. “The [Catholic] church doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage and I don’t see any way that the government’s going to force priests or the Catholic Church to marry same-sex couples because it’s not part of the tenants of the Catholic Church, just like they wouldn’t force the Catholic Church to marry someone of a different faith. Those are decisions to be made by the churches themselves.”

Hoey calls such predictions an overreaction, and says when they don’t prove true, people will pay less attention to what he thinks is a real concern.

“I think the real question now becomes what’s going to happen to religious institutions that have objections to same-sex relationships?” asks Hoey. “What happens to a Catholic college that has marriage housing? Do they have to include same-sex couples, or if they don’t, do they lose tax-exempt status? What happens to a parish hall … are they now going to be forced to rent it out for a same-sex ceremony, and if they don’t, would that be considered discrimination?”

Keeping church members safe on many people’s minds after South Carolina tragedy

A place of worship turned into a place of tragedy last week after nine people were gunned down during bible study at a historic church in South Carolina. The event is making some wonder if church is even safe in this day and age. Missourinet’s Alisa Nelson reached out to two Missouri churches about their efforts to try to protect their members.

church pewsDirector Paul Monda with Concord Baptist Church in Jefferson City told Missourinet the tragic event in South Carolina highlights the need to try to keep their congregation safe during worship.

“To not have a security program to me would be negligent. I would not be able to deal with myself if an event and I was not actively working to try to prevent such things.”

Monda says it’s unfortunate that churches have to go to such lengths.

“That is truly the sign of the times,” said Monda. “To not deal with it, to ignore is doing a disservice to our church, or to anyone’s church.”

Monda says their security team tries to keep safety measures discreet so that members can focus on worship.

Father Greg Meystrik with St. Peter Catholic Church in Jefferson City says security is challenging but necessary.

other emmanuel church pic“The security measures that we have in place, we seek to balance both hospitality and safety for everyone involved.”

Meystrik says his security team focuses on the safety of youth and minors, so that children can live, learn and grow in faith. He says they examine their security measures on a regular basis and the group tries to be proactive.

“That can help curb a problem before it exists too, or before something blows up to be something greater,” said Meystrik. “That doesn’t alleviate every bad situation from happening, but it can do a lot to prevent one.”

South Carolina is still reeling from the violent and racially motivated acts of a gunman who targeted the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston last Wednesday. Dylann Roof was arrested and admitted to shooting the nine innocent victims.