GOP lawmaker bashes the feds for restrictions on river baptisms

Rep. Jason Smith (R-Mo.) this week vowed to end National Park Service rules that require people to get a permit before holding baptism ceremonies in Ozark National Scenic Riverways (ONSR).

"Federal agencies are truly out of control," Smith said Wednesday. "First they try to regulate children working on their family farms and now they are trying to regulate baptisms.

"I am going to fight these rogue Washington agencies that seem intent on regulating every aspect of our life here in Missouri."

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Smith wrote a letter to ONSR Superintendent Bill Black this week after hearing complaints from constituents about the National Park Service's rules. Those rules require people to get a permit and give park officials two days notice before a baptism takes place.

"This decision will have a negative and direct impact on the historic activities of the people that live and work along the rivers that make up the ONSR," Smith wrote. "I am particularly concerned with the idea that an individual or church would have to give 48 hours notice to the Park Service prior to any such event.

"The idea that a church can predict within two days if they will need to perform a baptism is absurd, and only diminishes these special occasions."

Smith also called out the National Park Service for singling out baptisms for permits.

"Individuals are free to fish on the river, or float it, without providing two-days notice," he said. "Why does the use of the river for a baptism, a simple service that may only take a matter of minutes, require a special use permit?

"One would hope that the answer is not, 'Because the National Park Service wants to limit the number of baptisms performed on the river.' "

Smith said he plans to "take action" on this issue in Washington, but did not offer specifics in his letter. In the meantime, he said the Park Service should review its policy and ease the regulatory burden on churches and their members.