Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Updated on January 11, 2005 at 3:00 pm
Profiles in Courage: Rev. James Meeks, Illinois State Senator James Meeks or just plain Mr. Meek? Mr. Meek seems to work best.

SB 3186, which is said to amend the Illinois Human Rights Act to ban discrimination in housing and employment based on sexual orientation, passed the Illinois Senate yesterday and the Illinois House today. Governor Blagojevich said he is looking forward to signing the legislation.
I have never had Rev. State Senator James Meeks [D- Chicago, 15th Dist.], Pastor at the Salem Baptist Church in Chicago, on my show (“Public Affairs”), nor have I had a chance to meet or discuss public policy issues with him, so this could be a bit unfair. As to party affiliation, Senator Meeks calls himself an Independent, but tends to vote with the Democrats on Illinois State Senate organization issues. We will try to have Senator Meeks on the show to so that we can be sure of where he stands on the issues of the day.

However, based on Rich Miller’s report today of what Miller characterizes in his Capitolfax as “Yesterday’s historic passage [in Illinois] of a Senate bill [SB 3186] to protect gay rights in housing and employment,” Senator Meeks doesn’t seem exactly praiseworthy, once you hear the Miller report of Meeks’ discussion of the reasons why he voted the way he did—which was to “vote no” on the gay rights legislation [SB3186]. That is, without getting into whether his vote was right or wrong in an ethical, moral, legal or public policy sense, Senator Meeks seems to be lacking the courage of his convictions, which would seem to be a damning criticism, so to speak, for a pastor.

Miller tells us that Senator Meeks responded, “I’m the pastor of the largest church in Illinois,” when asked why he voted “no” on the Gay Rights bill.

Does that mean that pastors, by virtue of their occupation, should oppose such legislation? Does that mean that churchgoers everywhere oppose such legislation? Or that maybe all black churchgoers oppose such legislation? And if it means the latter, does Meeks’ statements, including those below, mean that he favors such legislation but he doesn’t have the guts to vote his convictions? Or, that, he was elected to represent his Congregation, and not his state senate district or his own views?

Or maybe, similar to what another well known African-American politician in Chicago has said in a different context, Senator Meeks thinks his congregation and/or his constituents are “too stupid,” to understand either what the legislation means or even which legislation is in their best interests.

The above speculation seems accurate as to Sen. Meek’s perceptions of his constituents, based on Miller’s report:

“Prodded further, Meeks blamed “public perception,” for his decision [to vote no]. ‘This has become the gay rights bill in the public’s mind, Meeks said, adding, ‘I’d be explaining that vote forever,’ if he’d supported the legislation.”

Miller added in his Capitolfax report that Senator Meeks also said he opposed discrimination against gays and lesbians in housing and employment. Yet, he voted against a bill that purported to ban such discrimination. Was that because Senator Meeks thought that although he opposes such discrimination, he does not think it is the role of the State to try to prevent it. Or, what? We don’t know. Apparently, Senator Meeks is not saying.

Senator Carol Ronen [D- Chicago], Miller reports, thanked Senator Meeks for not speaking against the bill. Although perhaps courteous, which is the way Sen. Ronen is, her “thank you” was apparently unnecessary. Senator Meeks wanted to vote against the bill, apparently, so he could say he did. It looks like he isn’t too proud of voting no on the Gay Rights bill. Thus, if he spoke out against the bill, that would only mean he would have to apologize for the vote to media people like Rich Miller and God knows who else, even more. And, who knows, all those apologies for his "no" vote might mean that somebody in his Congregation or in his District might find out that he really wanted to vote yes. And, then what?

What indeed? People might know what Senator Meeks really thinks. Or should I say what Rev. Meeks really things? Or, should I say, what Mr. Meek really thinks.

Those who worry about the clergy being elected to public office as somehow causing Church/State conflicts need worry no more. If Senator Meeks is typical, the clergy, once they become pols—well, they become pols and become as capable of voting one way and speaking another as everybody else. Welcome to the pol club, Rev. Meeks. Or is it Senator Meeks? Or, Mr. Meek?
Jeff Berkowitz, Host and Producer of Public Affairs and an Executive Recruiter doing Legal Search, can be reached at JBCG@aol.com