JEFFERSON CITY — Gov. Mike Parson’s office said Friday it has no “litmus religious test” for state government employees, clarifying a statement it made earlier this week that it would not have appointed a director of health “who does not share the same Christian values” as him.
Friday’s clarification follows strong criticism from interfaith religious groups, lawmakers and others.
“The Governor’s statement was intended to emphasize that (Chief Health Officer candidate) Don Kauerauf shared values aligned with those of the Governor and was not intended to imply that he requires job applicants to adhere to a particular religion,” Kelli Jones, a spokeswoman for Parson, told the Post-Dispatch on Friday.
“Just because an appointee has values that align with the governor’s Christian faith does not mean he is requiring them to adhere to his religion,” she said in a statement.
Jones said, “Governor Parson has never demanded a religious litmus test for appointments, as evidenced by the wide range of religious affiliations of his appointees.”
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For example, on the same day, Sen. Mike Moon, a Republican hardliner who helped overturn Kauerauf’s nomination, grilled the nominee during his confirmation hearing, former Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, a Democrat from St. Louis, went through his confirmation hearing for member of the National Board of Probation and Parole.
“I’m a Muslim and I’m not a Christian and he named me,” Nasheed told the Post-Dispatch on Friday. “I don’t think he really meant what he said. Like I said, if that was the case, I wouldn’t have been called a Muslim.
“I don’t think he meant it that way,” she said.
On Tuesday, Parson said, “Don is a public health expert who officially opposes masking requirements and COVID-19 vaccine mandates. He is openly pro-life and morally opposed to abortion. The people of Missouri know that I share these beliefs and would not have named anyone who does not share the same Christian values.
The quote drew quick criticism on Twitter, where State Rep. Adam Schwadron, R-St. Charles, wondered if he would be disqualified from the nomination because he was Jewish.
“I’m curious Governor, is this a standard you traditionally use?” He asked. “Article VI of the United States Constitution strictly forbids a religious test as a qualification for any public office or trust. would he be considered for nomination?
On Friday, the Greater St. Louis Interfaith Council said it sent a letter to Parson expressing its disapproval with the statement.
“It is beyond distress to think that you might not consider or appoint well-qualified individuals to serve our great state based on their religious beliefs,” the letter reads. “People of all faiths and no faith, in a variety of professions and vocations, make meaningful contributions to our state and our community every day.”
Originally published 12:22 p.m. Friday, February 4.