Monday, March 11, 2013

Six biggest legislative threats from the religious right

Another legislative session, and the religious right is at it again.  Here are six initiatives to watch:

Vouchers – Long touted as a panacea for public school problems, vouchers are a popular backdoor for targeted teaching. Right now there are ten states, plus the District of Columbia, that allow – and in some cases, require – that creationism be taught in private voucher schools.  

Creationism in public school science classes – So far this year we have seen Colorado, Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma attempt to pass bills that would either require creationism be taught or allow the questioning of evolution in the classroom. Three states  - Oklahoma (a different bill), Arizona and Indiana – reject bills requiring teacher to teach “all theories” equally. Montana State Rep. Clayton Fiscus (R-Billings) is trying very hard to get a creationism-in-class bill passed in that state. Oh sure, the wording is “alternative viewpoints” but that’s a dog whistle for creationism. We can be sure to see more bills of this nature since the Seattle-based Discovery Institute advocates for, and helps draft, bills supporting “balanced” presentations of information in science classes. 

Prayer/Proselytizing in public schools – Sure, the Supreme Court ruled that prayer can’t be required in public schools back in 1962 but that hasn’t stopped the religious right. Christian legislators try regularly to get around that decision and this year won’t be an exception. Last year, Missouri passed their “right to pray” amendment (as if anyone was stopping them) which opened the door for both prayer and proselytizing in public schools, as well as allowing students to skip homework that they feel “offends their religious beliefs.” I can’t help but notice how it’s always the Christians who get these exemptions. Seriously, the Crusades and Inquisition offend my religious beliefs but I never got to skip them in history class. Virginia has a similar bill making its way through their state House right now.

Exemptions for “Conscience” -  With most of the provisions of the ACA either in place or visible from here, this is one we’ll be fighting about for a while, I’ll wager. The religious right wants religious institutions and individuals to be able to ignore parts of the ACA – or any law, really – that offends their religious beliefs (that again) even though there are already exemptions for religious institutions. 

“Prayer” Caucuses at the state level – Similar to those “religious freedom” caucuses, the “prayer” caucuses are the pet project of U.S. House Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) Forbes is the chair of the Congressional Prayer Caucus but apparently that’s not enough for him. He wants little mini-me caucuses in every state. The Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation wants lawmakers to…

“… use the legislative process – both through sponsorship of affirmative legislation and through opposition to detrimental legislation – to assist the nation and its people in continuing to draw upon and benefit from this essential source of our strength and well-being.” 

Sounds pretty innocuous, right? Supporters of church-state separation say that the CPCF’s statement is misleading, that the real goal of the group is to entwine their religion firmly and permanently into the government at every level. In other words, to establish a theocracy. Last year, they managed to get Amendment 2 passed in Missouri (see above). Their list of current issues is more of the same and then some. So far, eight states have a “prayer caucus” – Maine, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Kentucky, Michigan, Virginia, Colorado and Mississippi.

Anti-Sharia laws – The U.S. Constitution prohibits enforcement of religious law. But that’s not enough for paranoid right-wing groups. Nope, they have to waste taxpayer money and time to keep out the dreaded (gasp!) Sharia law! Despite the fact that no one has ever tried to pass any kind of Sharia law in America, the fear-mongers insist that it’s only a matter of time. This unreasonable fear traces back to the idiocy that President Obama is some kind of stealth Muslim and is planning on enacting and enforcing Sharia law here. So far, the usual suspects have actually enacted anti-Sharia laws: Arizona, Kansas, Louisiana, South Dakota, Tennessee and Oklahoma. The Oklahoma bill was struck down by a federal appeals court because it specifically singled out Sharia law, thus violating the Constitution by singling out a specific religion. All these laws do is whip up anti-Muslim hysteria and feed the fears of the ignorant. They are unnecessary and even dangerous.

These are very real threats to real religious freedom. Make no mistake, there are groups of fundamentalists who have the agenda of dominionism, to create a Christian nation in America. They have no thought for the Constitution. No respect for other faiths. No love for democracy. They are backed by powerful monied interests. Some of the things I’ve written about are simply religious nuts trying to force their faith on the rest of us. But these Christian Reconstructionists are dangerous. We must know and understand the difference while resisting all attempts to align U.S. laws with religion – any religion. When it comes to government, the only thing we should worship is the Constitution. Outside of that, hey, whatever floats your boat. Just don’t try to sink mine.

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