Saturday, February 16, 2008

State Rep. Jeanette Mott Oxford's Inside View of the Battle Over Religious Freedom In Jefferson City

The following piece was written by Missouri State Representative Jeanette Mott Oxford from the 59th Distict. She gave me permission to publish it here. I've never met her, but I look forward to the privilege!
It was an interesting day on the Floor of the MO House. We debated Rep. Mike McGhee's House Joint Resolution (HJR) 55 which calls for a vote to amend the Missouri Constitution in the November 2008 election in order to reaffirm "religious freedom in public places." This is fairly similar to a bill that former St. Charles rep Carl Bearden carried the past couple of years.

It is clear that the real purpose of the constitutional amendment is to throw a bone to the radical right (especially theocrats who would like to impose one model of christianity on all of us) in order to attempt to bring out the Republican base in the November election. (This is also the purpose of Rep. Nieves "English for official proceedings" constitutional amendment - only the appeal there is to anti-immigrant or anti-multicultural bigots. In an inquiry that I did with Rep. Nieves, he admitted that there is no problem currently in Missouri - all official proceedings, that is, meetings covered by the Sunshine Law, are conducted in English.)

My Democratic colleagues had some interesting amendments and debate points to offer. First Rep. Trent Skaggs of Clay County attempted to move the ballot date from November to August. Rep. McGhee said children had been banned from bringing their Bibles on school buses in his framing of the resolution. Skaggs said he was concerned about that, and since school starts in August,shouldn't we move the date up?

Several GOP members replied that a constitutional amendment is very important, so we should want the biggest possible number of people to go to the polls, and historically that's in November, so they asked the body to vote no. I spoke in favor of the amendment, arguing that if people really believe in personal responsibility, then we would expect every registered voter to do his or her duty and go out and vote in August. I suggested that we are encouraging laziness and irresponsibility if we excuse our neighbors from voting in August by setting the date for November.

Rep. Levota and Rep. Skaggs then talked about why the GOP ought to want the vote to be in August. They said the voters don't seem very excited about coming out for McCain in November, but since there's a hotly contested Republican primary in August, that ought to draw voters out.

The August vote amendment failed on a party line vote.

Next Rep. Leonard "Jonas" Hughes of Kansas City offered and amendment to add "the saints and Virgin Mary" after the word "God" so that Catholic children would know they were able to pray any way they wanted to as well. Rep. Ryan Silvey did an inquiry with Hughes and argued that the word God encompasses the saints and the Virgin Mary and Vishnu for that matter. (We won't be nominating Mr. Silvey to represent us at an interreligious dialogue group any time soon obviously. People of different faiths tend to want to state their own definitions and theologies about the divine instead of having others lump everything under the one heading "God.") Hughes amendment also failed (by a bigger margin - guess some of my Democratic colleagues come from predominantly Protestant districts where the "saints and the Virgin Mary" amendment could get them in trouble; the 59th where I live is so predominantly Catholic that I "voted my district" by pushing Aye.)

Rep. Jamilah Nasheed os St. Louis (one of three Muslim members in the House) also had an amendment ready to add "Allah" to the resolution. Before the Speaker could call on Nasheed, Majority Floor Leader Tilley laid the bill over. The bill could come back up at any time. Maybe some on this listserve will want to write a letter to the editor about it. Find the language of the HJR at:

Personally I don't see why anyone would believe that Missourians who aren't informed and responsible enough to exercise their First Amendment Freedoms now will suddenly be able to do so after a constitutional amendment to reaffirm freedoms that we already have. I wonder how many of my colleagues who belong to the NRA would argue that we have to amend Missouri's constitution to protect gun rights. I think instead they would argue that this is already protected by our constitution (well, unless they were trying to draw certain voters out in November....). Why should we be any less passionate and clear about asserting our religious freedoms then the right to bear arms?

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Anonymous travel said...

I don't quite follow this not being up on the issues in Missouri, but why in the world would anyone want to ban kids from bringing their bibles on school buses or any other book for that matter (except for porn maybe). What if the kid has a bible study right after school is out and needs it before he gets home or what if the kid simply wants to read it on the bus? So what? It's not like it's being forced on anybody else.

2/16/2008 12:37 PM  
Anonymous mainstream said...

Putting up this nonsense in November is a blatant attempt to bring out the Republican evangelical base, much in the same way gay marriage measures were brought up in the previous election.

Rule #1 of the Republican manipulation of the evangelical right:

If they won't turn out for the Republican candidate (McCain) then give them something to HATE that'll turn'em out - like those evil liberals who want to prevent little Johny from attending Bible class at his church after school, because of some contrived nonsense like we're hearing here.

Initiatives like this are targeted, encouraged and funded by the local and national republican parties as a means of manipulating turnout in their favor.

2/16/2008 6:58 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

Travel -

Great question. Indeed, I would never accuse a Baptist Minister or a Republican Representative of making crap up to further a political goal, but that is almost what it looks like, isn't it?

2/17/2008 2:44 PM  
Blogger les said...

Thank you, Missouri, for taking the whackjob spotlight off Kansas, at least for a moment. And Dan, I retract any real or perceived snark directed at your suffering last week. Although if my current and recent condition are your fault...

2/18/2008 9:33 AM  
Anonymous travel said...

dan - whole thing is very strange indeed.

2/19/2008 11:05 AM  

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