Laws are Moral Choices

January 08, 2015

The City of Jefferson, Missouri, came alive yesterday. As the state capital, the downtown area explodes in population during legislative sessions. The 2015 session started at noon yesterday and runs until mid-May. For the next few months, legislators, lobbyists, activists, journalists, and others will fill up the parking spots, restaurants, and coffee shops. Since I spend some mornings writing just a few blocks away from the Governor's Mansion and Capitol building, I quickly notice the changes brought on by the legislators coming to town.

Sometimes noticing the consequences of how legislators act is not so easy.

Yet, laws are moral choices. And we must pay attention to how laws and political decisions impact real lives. Thus, I joined a couple of hundred other people - mostly clergy and faith leaders - from across the state at a rally yesterday to reminder state legislators of their moral obligations.

The event, led by Missouri Faith Voices, started with a rally at First Baptist Church of Jefferson City. Buses helped bring in people from Kansas City and St. Louis. Other people came from Columbia,  Springfield, and elsewhere. Numerous denominations were represented, along with people of other faiths.

After opening remarks to energize the crowd and crystallize the messages, we put on our coats, gloves, hats, and scarves to march to the Capitol. Although only three blocks away, it felt much longer with the thermometer only using a single digit while wind guests rose to double digits.

However, we couldn't allow cold and wind to prevent the sending of an important reminder to legislators about to ring in a new session. So we took off from the church, past the Governor's Mansion, and over to the Capitol building.

Once in the Capitol, we had another short rally with speakers explaining our concerns and challenges to state legislators and journalists. Three clergy members who were part of the effort penned a good St. Louis Post-Dispatch column the previous day that outlined much of the message.

"Politics of money and power in the halls of our Capitol is killing us," the three ministers wrote. "We in the faith community see the effects of these politics every single day, and we can no longer remain silent."

"As Missouri faith leaders, we call upon our legislators to lead with the character and faithfulness we know them to have," the ministers added. "We call upon them to save lives by expanding Medicaid, reforming our justice system and promoting economic dignity for all."

The Capitol rotunda creates a powerful, beautiful backdrop. At times even the rocks seemed to cry out as the chiseled words on the walls offered messages seeming to support the signs held by protesters at the rally.

Near the end of the rally, I took off to pick up my son from preschool. When he saw my "Missouri Faith Voices" sticker, he asked me if I had voted. We have voted together in a total of six primary and general elections during his two-and-half years. Apparently I don't wear stickers on other occasions. At first I laughed and said, "no, I went to a rally." Then I realized I had voted. Participating in democracy means much more than showing up on election day. I voted to remind legislators at the start of the session that they need to put the common good ahead of partisan politics or powerful interests.

As the rally came to an end, the legislators were sworn in elsewhere in the Capitol. Hopefully our pleas for moral laws that uphold human dignity echoed through the rotunda enough to whisper into the ears of those legislators.