Medicaid 23

August 19, 2016

This week the Cole County (Missouri) Prosecutor took 23 faith leaders to court. The case stems from a short protest the 23 led back in May of 2014. As that year's Missouri legislative session came to a close without a vote on expanding Medicaid, the faith leaders stood in the public gallery and protested with singing and chanting.

More than two years later, Missouri legislators still haven't voted on Medicaid expansion, leaving many poorer Missourians without life-saving healthcare coverage. But governmental officials decided to spend taxpayer money prosecuting these clergy. It seems our government's priorities are off when we're letting people die without healthcare but prosecuting clergy for daring to speak out for the dying. 

I joined a pretrial rally on Monday to offer support for the clergy, some of whom I've known for a few years and a couple of whom have been involved in Churchnet events. We met at First Baptist Church and then marched and sang (of course) over to the courthouse. Other clergy prayed over the defendants. Leaders from Missouri Faith Voices then offered some remarks for a press conference on the courthouse steps.

The clergy - mostly African-Americans - were represented by two excellent public officials: Republican State Representative Jay Barnes (my representative) and Missouri NAACP President Rod Chapel. Interestingly, Republican State Senator Kurt Schaefer, a strong opponent of expanding Medicaid, testified for the defense! Sadly, the prosecutor engaged in some troubling racial behavior, both in his pursuit of the case and in his court rhetoric. 

A jury on Wednesday found the faith leaders guilty of trespassing, but not guilty of obstructing government operations. That's an odd split. They were sitting in a public gallery in the people's house, but found guilty of trespassing. If they were doing something not allowed there, that could be a problem - but they were found not guilty of the obstruction.

Fortunately, the jury on Thursday recommended against jail time (up to 6 months was possible). The judge will make a ruling later on a possible fine (up to $500 each). That means the court will convene for a fifth day to deal with the singing clergy. I wonder how much money the trial will cost taxpayers.

Medicaid expansion is a moral issue. And I appreciate the voices of those willing to prophetically challenge the powers that refuse to serve the 'least of these.'