By Jeff Munzinger
Civility and compassion have taken some big hits in recent days. Consider:
On the same recent day as the San Bernardino Elementary School shooting, the Missouri legislature heard testimony to allow open carry in gun-free zones, including child care centers, public universities and churches.
In a publicly disseminated video, Missouri Senate President Ron Richard said another legislator who questioned his integrity can “kiss my grits.” Only Richard didn’t say grits.
Richard is the leader of the Missouri Senate. He received a $100,000 check from Joplin billionaire David Humphreys just six days after Richard filed legislation to greatly alter Missouri’s consumer protection law in a way that could undercut a class-action lawsuit against Humphreys.
Richards, in the same video where he invites a kiss to his posterior, says he’s the most ethical person in the Missouri State Capitol. “There’s been no (more) ethical person in this building than me.”
Arkansas seemingly is racing to execute eight convicts in 11 days before the “use-by” date of its execution drugs expires.
If the date expires, the drugs’ effectiveness might be compromised, meaning the condemned could suffer in a manner that the American Civil Liberties Union calls “torture.” So the drugs’ use might constitute “cruel and unusual” punishment, which is forbidden by the U.S. Constitution.
Not that the death penalty in itself isn’t cruel and unusual. The United States is the only Western nation that allows for capital punishment. And of the 19 states that disallow it, two of them — Iowa and Illinois — share borders with Missouri.
Meanwhile in Missouri, where our state motto says “the well-being of the people is the supreme law,” the people are once again taking it on the chin.
The list of pro-business/anti-consumer legislation is long, but perhaps the most egregious in recent days is the misguided effort to remove protections of religious beliefs from state law.
Difficult though that may be to believe, under the guise of stopping nuisance or frivolous lawsuits, the legislature is moving forward on a bill that, according to Missouri Faith Voices, would make Missouri “the first state in the nation to allow individuals to discriminate, harass and even assault others based on categories long protected that include not only religions but also gender, ethnicity, physical ability, age and national origin.”
The bill would enable employers to engage in unlawful discrimination — with little fear of consequences — by erecting unnecessary barriers for victims to successfully pursue their claims in court.
In other words, the bill would make the burden of proof more intense for those claiming workplace discrimination. Instead of having to prove discrimination was a "contributing factor," the accuser would have to prove that it is the "motivating factor.”
Missouri Faith Voices calls this “a moral crisis,” and you certainly have to wonder. While testifying against the bill, Missouri NAACP President Nimrod Chapel Jr. had his microphone cut off.
Chapel puts it this way: ”To say with a straight face that the Jim Crow laws of the past are going to be accepted, talked about, debated in a public forum in Missouri, is abominable," Chapel said. "It will be a legacy that will not just haunt the state, it will haunt the people that were involved.”
While the bill itself is troubling, a cloud hangs over its sponsor, Sen. Gary Romine, R-Farmington, and suggests his interest is personal. Perhaps it’s just a coincidence, but Romine is the subject of a lawsuit alleging unlawful discrimination under the very same law he seeks to eviscerate.
Romine’s rent-to-own business is the subject of a lawsuit in which a black former employee claims her supervisor continually harassed her with racial slurs and racist language — including extensive use of the ’N’ word — and that she was fired after complaining about the manager’s discriminatory comments.
If true, the employee’s allegations represent the sort of behavior that the Missouri Human Rights Act is supposed to address. But this is also the type of behavior that would go unpunished under the new bill.
The president of Missouri Faith Voices, the Rev. Dr. Rodney Williams, says the legislature’s actions are “un-American, unconscionable and unholy.”
Faith Voices is a nonpartisan, multi-faith and multi-racial grass-roots organization with chapters throughout the state.
“We don’t expect lawmakers to be religious,” says Williams, pastor of Swope Parkway Christian Church in Kansas City, “but we do expect them to be just. As people of faith we will not be silenced and will continue to lift our voices against this and all matter of injustice in this state, and hold lawmakers accountable.”
Jeff Munzingerwrites on behalf of theCenter for Diversity and Reconciliation which seeks“to transform, educate and connect diverse communities in Springfield to inspire deep understanding and profound appreciation of our differences, which calls each of us to our fullest relationship with one another.”