From time to time there are political issues that lead to questions about how much of impact religion has on the Wyoming legislature. The state is heavily dominated by Republicans and many outsiders figure that makes Wyoming’s politicians religiously conservative too. But while many lawmakers say their value systems were influenced by their religious beliefs. How they vote tends to depend on the issue.
To be clear, religion does play a role on the floor of the legislature. For instance, every day the Wyoming Senate and House of Representatives begins with a prayer.
There is one Baptist Pastor who is a member of the House of Representatives, but he’s not the only one who wears religion on his sleeve. Several legislators are very open with their religious beliefs. Casper Republican Tom Lockhart has led the legislative prayer breakfast for 14 years and he sees a lot of interest in religion.
“I think the majority of the legislators have a faith and a majority of them a Christian faith, and so I think it shapes the things we do as I think it shapes the things we do in Wyoming generally.”
Lockhart says his religious beliefs help give him relief from the stresses of the legislature and it helps him focus on the things that matter. Does it influence his voting?
“Oh I think so, I think it’s like any background. I watch the Catholic issues pretty much and so anything I see that is negative on those I’d probably vote no on it. Although it is not the only driver I have. If I think it is good for the state of Wyoming and it might have a hiccup for the Catholic church, I’d vote for it.”
Senator Dave Kinskey who represents Sheridan and Johnson Counties.
“I think that your values, your faith, underlay and animate everything that we do. Whether it’s our family, our work, or our legislation.”
Kinskey has referenced God a few times during legislative debate, something that is rarely done. One issue where Kinskey brought his religious beliefs to the table was when he helped provide exemptions for religious organizations in a bill that eliminated discrimination for gays and transgender people.
“There are folks of faith who have some objections and wanted a religious space carved out for, for instance the Boy Scouts, Churches, ministries, who believe differently from what the bill mandated.”
But Kinskey says there is an issue where he goes against his strong Catholic beliefs.
“It’s clear that the Bible says thou shalt not kill, but here I am an advocate of the death penalty.”
Chesie Lee is with the Wyoming Association of Churches and has been a long time legislative observer. She’s says it’s not unusual for legislators, such as Kinskey, to occasionally stray from their beliefs. In fact, Lee says some very religious lawmakers are all over the map. But others stick with their beliefs.
“Particularly for some denominations it does matter a great deal. Take LDS as an example, often they do look at what their teachings have been to influence their vote.”
Senator Ray Peterson is one of those LDS members. He’s not sure his faith comes up all that often.
“You know this session there’s only been one or two bills that has made me reach back into my religious beliefs and kind of do a review and base my decision on those, but other than that, probably not that many times.”
Lovell Representative Elaine Harvey is also a member of the LDS church.
“My religious is my core value, it’s who I am, it’s what I believe, and so I don’t cross my core beliefs. I vote because it’s how I feel inside, it’s the core of me. So does religion shape what I do, I would have to say over the years yes it has.”
Harvey is the chairman of the House Health, Labor and Social Services Committee and they have dealt with a number of things from abortion rights to same sex issues that tend to get the attention of religious leaders.
“Well if you asking how many times other people bring religion to the question of how I should vote. I’d say that’s quite often.”
Harvey has spent the week hearing from many of those very people about an anti-discrimination bill. She said despite the views of religious leaders, she lets her own values guide her.
Casper Representative Tom Reeder is Baptist and gets a lot of feedback from his community and members of his congregation. But he says his religious beliefs play a small role in most votes.
“You know I try to look at it morally if you will on some decisions, but I would say that it probably enters into it 20 percent of the time on some of the issues. The other issues are right and wrong.”
One thing Representative Harvey wants to point out is this. Some people who haven’t gone to church in years actually bring up moral issues more than people who are regular church goers.