A group of black clergy and other faith leaders stood on the steps of the Capitol on Thursday and continued to press the Legislature to expand Medicaid.
The speakers, from churches across the state, said expanding Medicaid was a moral imperative and also called on lawmakers to focus on improving education opportunities in unaccredited school districts and to reject voter ID laws.
"We have gathered for a moral reason," said the Rev. Jimmy Brown of St. Luke Memorial Baptist Church in St. Louis. "It is immoral in this state to resist and oppose to provide health care to all of our citizens and to reject Medicaid is a rejection of that moral right."
As he finished his speech in front of the Capitol, Brown invoked the biblical story of David versus Goliath.
"David told Goliath, "you come to me with all you powers, but I come to you in the name of the Lord,'" he said. "And we come to (Jefferson City) to declare that we stand on those moral principles ... and you know the giant did fall."
The speakers accused lawmakers who oppose Medicaid expansion of ignoring the suffering of thousands of Missouri residents in the name of politics, but expressed hope that eventually the opposition would relent.
"There is no reason on planet Earth why Medicaid expansion is not going forward except that there are those who don't care about the least of them," said the Rev. Linden Bowie of Zion Travelers Baptist Church in St. Louis.
The Rev. Cassandra Gould of Quinn Chapel AME Church in Jefferson City focused her speech on education, saying it was a shame that children are being taught in unaccredited schools.
"(Lawmakers) have denied access to the precious little children ... denied them quality education, denied them from becoming full citizens," she said.
About 60 people in all gathered beneath cloudy skies to hear the speeches, before taking to the Capitol to meet with six senators.
While the group of faith leaders focused on Medicaid and education during the event, they said they have other priorities they will continue to push for. Those priorities include: blocking voter ID laws, capping rates on payday loans, raising the minimum and reducing incarceration rates of minorities. They also indicated they will be gathering signatures to get an initiative petition to allow early voting on the November ballot.
Jim Hill of Missouri Faith Voices said he thinks it is a small group of senators keeping the Legislature from expanding Medicaid, and the opposition within the Republican Party is not as strong as perceived.
The Medicaid expansion debate has heated up since lawmakers returned from their spring break. Last week, a group of five Republicans took to the Senate floor and vowed to block any expansion legislation this session. On Wednesday, Republican senators John Lamping, Ladue, and Ryan Silvey, Kansas City, argued over the merits of accepting federal money to expand Medicaid eligibility.
Silvey in recent weeks has expressed support for finding a way for the Legislature to approve Medicaid reforms that included expanded eligibility. As the debate heated up, the underlying bill of Medicaid reforms without expansion was laid over.
After meeting with Silvey's chief of staff, the Rev. Vernon Howard of Second Baptist Church in Kansas City said Silvey was "a voice for reason and fiscal efficacy and moral vision in finding a Medicaid expansion solution."
Sen. Gina Walsh, who greeted the visitors in the hall outside her office, said she supported "full-blown expansion," but doesn't think the Senate is headed her way.
"I don't think there is a momentum in that direction, but I wish there was," she said.