November 4, 2008, was a pretty good day for church-state separation. It marked the end of the eight-year reign of error of the incompetent, secretive, corrupt, faith-based Bush-Cheney administration. But it may not tally the end of agnostic (sic!) Karl Rove’s signal achievement, harnessing the power of the Religious Right, the “theocons,” to a political agenda.
President Barack Obama and his party’s enhanced majority in Congress can be expected to reverse the Bush regime’s endless attacks on church-state separation, religious liberty, and reproductive choice. However, it is unlikely that Obama will be able to return the Supreme Court to its previous fairly strong support for church-state separation in the near future, as the justices most likely to retire are the more liberal ones and the conservatives (Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and John Roberts) are all younger.
Obama opposes school vouchers, but it is uncertain what will happen to the federally funded District of Columbia voucher plan that Bush and a Republican Congress imposed against the will of the people and their nonvoting congressional delegate in the federal “colony.”
Also uncertain is what will happen to Bush’s “faith-based initiative” that has channeled over $1.5 billion to religious groups, trained their personnel in the art of grant writing, and awarded contracts to a great many administration cronies. The faith-based initiative, the brainchild of Texas atheist-turned-fundamentalist Marvin Olasky, was used to try to bribe many African-American churches into supporting the GOP. Obama promised during the campaign to overhaul the initiative and require recipients of tax dollars to avoid religious or other discrimination in hiring.
Not at all ambiguous on November 4 were some solid referendum victories for church-state separation. Colorado voters crushed an extreme antichoice initiative by a whopping 73 percent to 27 percent that would have defined personhood as beginning at fertilization. South Dakota voters rejected a slightly less-draconian antichoice initiative by a respectable 55 to 45 percent. California voters defeated a parental notification antichoice initiative by 52 to 48 percent. Washington State approved a physician-assisted suicide measure by 58 to 42 percent over the opposition of conservative church leaders.
On the other hand, a ban on same-sex marriage was passed in California 52 to 48 percent, largely because of heavy infusions of cash from Mormon and conservative Christian sources.
But supporters of church-state separation should not imagine the Religious Right is washed up. They’re not. Their base held together and their leaders are planning for the future. Further, efforts to remedy church-state violations in the federal courts may be stymied because Bush stacked the lower federal courts with relatively young judges. On the other hand, the Obama administration will be able to slowly redress this imbalance. Come what may, the battle to protect church-state separation will not end anytime soon.
Loon Star State?
“Don’t Mess With Texas,” reads the bumper sticker. Frankly, Texas is awfully good at messing with itself. Viz.: The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) is toying with the idea of diluting the teaching of evolution by requiring the teaching of its “strengths and weaknesses,” code for sneaking in creationism. [See articles in this issue.—Eds.] The SBOE is pushing fuzzy standards for public-school Bible courses, code for tilting schools toward fundamentalism. Then, too, San Antonio gazillionaire James Leininger continues to pump big bucks into efforts to promote voucher plans to channel tax support to faith-based schools. One worthy organization standing up to these threats is the Texas Freedom Network, a broad-based church-state separation group that could well serve as a model for other states.
From Hither and Yon
Alabama’s State Board of Education has approved a fundamentalist book for public-school Bible study classes. . . . The Vatican is considering delaying the “beatification” of Pope Pius XII, widely criticized by historians for his inadequate response to Nazism and the Holocaust. . . . France’s constitutional policy of laïcité holds throughout the country except for the largely German-speaking Alsace-Moselle region, where local government involves itself with “established religions,” providing subsidies and even religious education in public schools. Now the region may get involved with Islam, though this is controversial within the Muslim community. . . . Americans United filed suit in September to block the District of Columbia from granting $12 million to a religious homeless shelter that requires attendance at nightly church services.