Undecided Koster ponders appeal in religious liberty case

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster has yet to announce his decision on whether he will order an appeal of a U.S. District Court decision that struck down Senate Bill 749, which has been affirmed by many Christians in Missouri as non-negotiable in the fight to protect religious liberty.

Koster has until April 12 to decide, the Associated Press reported. At stake is the status of a new law that is designed to protect the religious liberty of Missouri citizens who do not wish to have their institutions coerced by the federal government into providing abortions under the new Obamacare law.

Several groups, elected officials, and individuals with an interest in protecting religious freedom are calling for the Democrat attorney general to act. Among those requesting the action are the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC), Missouri’s Catholic bishops, and House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka and a practicing attorney who wrote Koster a March 20 letter on the topic.

The action that has placed Koster in the position of having to make a decision came when U.S. District Judge Audrey Fleissig out of St. Louis ruled March 14 that some of the state law — specifically wording that exempts citizens from participating in Obamacare due to their consciences – contradicted the federal law and needed
to be removed. Fleissig was appointed by President Obama.

“This is another instance of gross judicial activism,” said Don Hinkle, MBC director of public policy and editor of The Pathway. “Freedom of conscience is a precious right long held by Americans and particularly Southern Baptists.

Judge Fleissig strips us of that Godgiven right. The attorney general’s job is to defend Missouri law and we urge Attorney General Koster to appeal this outrageous ruling.”

As it stands now, the Missouri Baptist Children’s Home, Southwest Baptist University, and Hannibal-LaGrange
University are all “totally exposed” to lawsuits based on non-compliance, according to Kerry Messer, legislative liaison of the Christian Life Commission of the MBC, with no regard for their objecting to the mandate based on conscience. However, the hope is that Koster would “aggressively defend this, to appeal it to the U.S. Supreme Court,” Messer said.

The official statement that Koster is using to state his position as of the March 25 presstime of The Pathway, as communicated by his spokeswoman, Nanci Gonder, is that “we are reviewing the ruling.” Gonder indicated in a March 25 text message reply to The Pathway that she did not know when a decision would be made.

Jones is hoping that Koster will ultimately appeal the ruling. He noted that Missouri’s case against the federal contraception mandate stands on the question of whether Americans have a right to freedom of religion under the First Amendment. WORLD magazine in reporting on the matter identified Missouri’s law as “the first of its kind to address the federal contraceptive mandate.”

Jones said that the Missouri case needs to wind its way through the federal court system so that it can become part of a tapestry of many cases from many states that illustrate how Obamacare is full of complications and problems that are preventing its implementation. It is possible, he said, with the right action at the right time in the right setting, to see the entire Affordable Care Act collapse “like a house of cards.”

Each individual court case matters, the House speaker said. He reminded Koster in his letter to him that in mid-March “a federal judge in Michigan enjoined enforcement of the contraception mandate and prohibited the federal government from violating the religious freedom of business owners in that state.”

Obamacare turned three years old on March 23. Jones said it typically does not take that long for the public to warm to an entitlement program, and the fact that there continues to be such active, widespread resistance to this one is proving to be a challenge for its advocates. He estimated that Missouri is one of more than 20 states who keep on saying no to one aspect or another of the federal health care plan even as it seeks to win converts in 2013.

“The whole law is now being exposed one plank at a time,” he said.

Through it all, citizens who love the First Amendment in Missouri appear to be gaining in resolve.

“There’s no excuse for lawmakers, for the governor, for the attorney general, or for the court system to not support the religious liberties of the citizens of the state of Missouri,” Messer said. “It’s inexcusable. This is an outrageous activist decision from the federal court, and we just can’t stand for it.

“What you see here is the people with a lot of political clout get to make policy decisions over and above what are the right decisions for the citizens that the government is supposed to be defending, supporting, protecting, and providing for. It’s a coalition of the Obamacare community which includes the hospital association, the insurance companies, and such entities. Folks scratch their heads and say, ‘Why in the world would these insurance companies be in bed with the Obamacare agenda when they know that in the long run that agenda is going to dismantle private insurance companies in the United States?’ The answer to that is the CEOs of these insurance companies are looking at making bundles and bundles of money so as the insurance company disappears into the night after Obamacare is a full reality their family is set to live off of their investments for future generations. In other words, they don’t care. They’re selling out the religious liberties of everybody for their own personal bank accounts.”

SB 749, the law in question, only became law by the pure will of the people through dozens of their elected officials. Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, saw his veto overridden by margins of 26-6 in the Senate and 109-45 in the House of Representatives. It could happen again, Messer said, because there continues to be a strong dose of conservatism in the State Capitol.

“As bad as it is (in the land), it is so much better than every other state in the nation,” he said. “It’s amazing to think that we are an island of hope in this nation.” ( contributed to this report.)