Americans United is reminding Missouri Gov. Mike Parson (R) that in the United States, there can be no religious test for public office.
The issue arose in the Show Me State recently after the state senate rejected Donald Kauerauf, Parson’s nominee to be director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.
Some far-right senators apparently had concerns about Kauerauf’s conservative bona fides. This led Parson to reply, “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.”
Was the governor admitting that he imposes a religious litmus test on nominees? Do they have to be conservative Christians?
A member of Parson’s own party, state Rep. Adam Schwadron (R-St. Charles), was among the first to raise the issue, tweeting, “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?”
Schwadron could have pointed out that Missouri’s Constitution contains a similar provision. Article I, Section 5 states that “no person shall, on account of his or her religious persuasion or belief, be rendered ineligible to any public office or trust or profit in this state.”
Parson insists he has done nothing wrong, but Americans United disagrees. AU President and CEO Rachel Laser told the Associated Press, “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.”
Brian Kaylor, a Baptist minister, the editor of Word&Way in Jefferson City and a board member of AU’s St. Louis Chapter, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that Parson’s comments were “inappropriate but also not surprising.”
Added Kaylor, “This is a state where this director is going to be serving people of many faiths and no faith, and so I think that’s very concerning that a governor would send a message that only Christians need to apply to this type of position, which not only impacts any applicants, or people who might be chosen, but also sends a message to the rest of the state that maybe you’re a second-class citizen.”
It doesn’t help that Parson has a history of this sort of thing. In a 2017 interview with Word&Way, he brazenly stated that nonreligious people aren’t fit to hold public office.
“First of all, I can’t even begin to imagine to do these jobs if you don’t have faith,” Parson said. “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.”
In pre-Revolution America, some colonies limited public office to Christians or even “Trinitarian Protestants.” Several states explicitly banned atheists from holding office and/or serving on juries.
These provisions are examples of less enlightened, more bigoted time. They were done away with at the federal level by language in Article VI of the U.S. Constitution, which bans religious test for public office, and at the state level by a 1961 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case Torcaso v. Watkins, in which the high court held that a Maryland man could not be required to profess belief in God as a condition of becoming a notary public.
Religious tests for public office were killed and buried long ago. We are a better, freer and fairer nation because of that. Parson should not try to resurrect them.