Missouri Governor Mike Parsons said nonbelievers cannot be effective leaders without faith

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Back in 2017 Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, above, in an interview with Baptist newspaper Word&Way, blathered on about the role faith plays in his role as a public official. The then-Lt. Governor said this:

I can’t even begin to imagine to do these jobs if you don’t have faith. I mean, if you’re not a believer, there’s no way, I believe, you can be a truly effective leader because when you are in this arena you are a leader. And to make decisions without faith, to me, would be impossible. I don’t know how you make the decision and how you’re going to affect the future if you don’t have belief and faith.

This week, almost five years on, that quote has returned to bite Parson on the butt as he stands accused of appointing only people who share his “Christian values.”

Don Kauerauf (Governor Parson’s Flickr)

The story, according to AP, centers on the ousting of Department of Health and Senior Services Director Don Kauerauf, above, by conservative senators. Kauerauf took over as the state’s health director in September last year after his predecessor, Randall Williams, left the job in April 2021 without publicly citing a reason.

Why was Kauerauf shown the door? Even though he opposes mask and vaccine mandates and abortion, senators caved in to pressure from right-wing extremists who learned from Kauerauf’s statements that he wants more Missourians vaccinated. He lamented the fact that the take-up of jabs in Missouri is “atrocious.”

Republican Sen. Mike Moon, Kauerauf’s main opponent in the Senate, said:

We had an overwhelming outpouring from the people of Missouri from all over the state, and their voices were heard. We acted on their will.

One of those protesting Kauerauf’s appointment was Deborah Wiersma, of Pacific, Missouri. Wearing a red hat announcing her support of former President Donald Trump outside the Senate committee hearing, she said even though Parson and Kauerauf don’t support mandates, she’s concerned that they’re still encouraging masking, testing, social distancing and vaccinations. “I’m against all of it,” she said.

In announcing Kauerauf’s resignation on Tuesday, Parson wrote in a statement:

Don is a public health expert that is on record opposing masking requirements and COVID-19 vaccine mandates. He is outspokenly pro-life and morally opposed to abortion. Missourians know that I share these beliefs and would not have nominated someone who does not share the same Christian values.

Reporting on the ousting of Kauerauf, Religion News said the statement “prompted some to wonder if only Christians need apply for top-level jobs in the Parson administration.”

Republican state Rep. Adam Schwadron of St. Charles wrote on Twitter.

I’m curious Governor, is this a standard you traditionally use? Article VI of the US Constitution strictly prohibits a religious test as a qualification to any office or public trust. Considering that, I then must ask the question. Would someone who is Jewish, such as myself, be considered for nomination?

Said Rachel Laser, CEO of Americans for Separation of Church and State:

The governor’s remarks are offensive and undermine our nation’s promise of religious freedom, which is the fundamental right to believe or not, as we choose, and to know that our government will treat us equally.

“Article VI of the US Constitution strictly prohibits a religious test as a qualification to any office…Would someone who is Jewish, such as myself, be considered for nomination?

state Rep. Adam Schwadron (R)

The Interfaith Partnership of Greater St. Louis, whose mission statement says its goal is to deepen “understanding, respect and appreciation among all persons across lines of religious difference,” expressed concern about the apparent religious test in an open letter to Parson.

People of all faiths and no faith, in a variety of occupations and vocations, make significant contributions to our state and community every day.

Kelli Jones, spokeswoman for Parson, said in an email that the governor’s statement:

Was intended to point out that Don Kauerauf shared values that aligned with the Governor’s and was not intended to imply that he imposes a requirement that job applicants adhere to any particular religion.

But Brian Kaylor, the editor of Word&Way, said in an interview that he found Parson’s statement:

Inappropriate but also not surprising. It’s a little shocking just to see the governor make such an explicitly sectarian claim about who he would pick for this type of position.

Kaylor is a board member of the St. Louis chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. That the editor of a Baptist newspaper is standing up for church/state separation may seem surprising, but it shouldn’t be. Strong support of separation has been at the heart of the Baptist denomination since the 17th century for the protections is offered from the dominant faiths of the time and long after. The first direct reference to a wall of separation came in Thomas Jefferson’s response to a letter from an association of Baptists asking for assurances that the separation of church and state would remain inviolate.

Kaylor also referenced a news release Parson had sent earlier defending Kauerauf, saying he is “guided by our Missouri principles: Christian values, family values, and love for this nation.”

He was already kind of framing this as a ‘you all should just vote for my guy because I’m a Christian, he’s a Christian, we’re all Christians.’

Chuck Hatfield, a Jefferson City attorney who has worked in state government, said Parson’s use of “Christian values” instead of plainly saying he would only hire a Christian could be the state’s saving grace if and when jilted job applicants start filing employment discrimination lawsuits because of the statement.

Hatfield said:

He [Parson] pulled up just short of saying, I’m not going to hire someone … who’s not a Christian. But by saying I’m only going to hire people who share ‘my Christian values,’ as opposed to ‘my values,’ I think he does open the state up (to lawsuits) if there are folks out there who, you know, do not share the Christian religion who’ve not been hired for jobs. They’ve got a plausible claim that perhaps Missouri discriminates against folks who aren’t Christians.

Religious discrimination in employment is illegal under both US federal and state law, and a religious test is specifically prohibited in Article VI of the US Constitution.

Veteran journalist and free speech activist Barry Duke was, for 24 years, editor of The Freethinker magazine, the second oldest continually active freethought publication in the world, established by G.W....