September 1, 2015

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.





SNAP hopes priest case encourages other victims (AUDIO)

A support organization for people abused by priests hopes resolution of an abuse case in Boonville last week encourages more people who’ve been harboring a secret to step forward.

A judge in Boonville has ruled that the statute of limitations had not run out on the man who was known as Father Jerry Howard, who is going to prison for 12 years for abusing three boys in the 1980s while serving as a priest in Boonville. Howard had left the state, which stopped the limitations clock from running. He was living in New Jersey when he was arrested.

Director David Clohessy of the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests says the judge’s ruling should encourage other prosecutors to go after priests and other abusers whose acts were done decades ago.

Clohessy continues to accuse the Catholic Church of delaying actions and concealing information, saying any progress the church has made has been “painfully” small. But he says the Catholic Church is not the only faith group with abuse problems. “Every faith group could and should do a better job…Many denominations have fewer restrictions on who may become clergy and those denominations tend to be more open to kicking out bad apples,” he says.

Howard was known in New Jersey as father Carmen Sita, who was charged in 1982 with molesting boys. He was put on probation for five years in 1988 and went to a clinic in New Mexico that treats sex offenders. He changed his name to Gerald Howard after his release, moved to the Jefferson City diocese, and was stationed in Boonville.

Clohessy’s group has strongly criticized the Jefferson City diocese for its actions and last week added to its criticism when it said the diocese had withheld information that Howard/Sita had been defrocked two years ago by Pope Benedict. SNAP says it learned of the Pope’s actions from a lawyer for the Newark, New Jersey Archdiocese.

Clohessy says there’s no way to know how many victims of clergy abuse could be helped by the circumstances behind Howard’s conviction and sentence.

AUDIO: Clohessy interview 10:33

Student Religious Liberty bill awaits action (AUDIO)

One of the bills awaiting action by Governor Nixon is the Student Religious Liberties Act. But it’s written to protect those without religion, too.

The bill says schools cannot discriminate against students on the basis of religious expression or viewpoint, however expressed—whether in art, writing, speech, or in clothing, jewelry and accessories. It does not require anyone to take part in any religious activities.

It requires school districts to write policies that provide for what’s called a “limited public forum” speech at any event where a student is to speak in public–graduation and baccalaureate events, for example. It says students can pray or take part in religious activities before, during, and after school hours.

Supporters say the bill also protects non-believers as well by allowing clothing, jewelry, or accessories that promote Satanism or witchcraft, as long as the items are not indecent.

But sponsor Ryan Silvey of North Kansas City says the decency line is up to the school district to define. The bill also requires districts to say any student expression does not reflect an endorsement of the student’s position.AUDIO: Final debate 13:57