Operating largely below the public’s—and the media’s—radar is the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an ultraconservative policy shop founded in 1973 by Paul Weyrich (one of the founders of Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority). Its mission is to influence state legislatures, far too many of whose members are only too happy to accept “expert” advice. ALEC provides model bills to its two thousand legislative and three hundred corporate members. It is financially supported by the likes of the infamous Koch brothers.
Of special interest to this writer is ALEC’s crusade to defund and downgrade public education while diverting public funds to private schools, the overwhelming majority of which are religiously discriminatory church-related institutions. This crusade (a most appropriate term) accelerated this year largely because of the Republican sweep in November 2010. ALEC will use any means to undermine public schools and shift funding to private religious schools, through vouchers, tuition tax credits (the latter mistakenly approved narrowly by the Supreme Court this year), or, significantly, charter schools. The corporate members of its education task force include the (Milton) Friedman Foundation, the Goldwater Institute, the Washington Policy Center, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, and private corporate interests eager to make money from private and charter schools.
Concern has been expressed in some circles that there might not be sufficient private-school “capacity” to enroll all the expected beneficiaries of voucher and tuition tax-credit schemes. A foolish worry. Catholic schools have declined in enrollment from 5.5 million students in 1965 to 2 million today (due largely to the end of Protestant hegemony in half the nation’s public schools in the wake of the Supreme Court’s rulings against school prayer and devotional Bible reading in 1962 and 1963), which leaves room for two million or so students in empty Catholic school classrooms. Then, too, there are many tens of thousands of religious education facilities that are presently used only on Sunday mornings that could easily and inexpensively be used for private schools for millions of kids.
Americans need to keep four things in mind. First, diversion of public funds to sectarian private schools violates the principle of church-state separation in the United States and most state constitutions. Second, it violates the right of Americans not to be compelled by government to contribute to the support of religious institutions. Third, weakening public education is an attack on one of the most important of democratic institutions. Fourth, tens of millions of voters in over two dozen statewide referenda from coast to coast have rejected vouchers or their variants by super-landslide margins.
Birth Control: Still Under Fire
It was a century ago that Margaret Sanger (the American Humanist Association’s 1957 Humanist of the Year) began the public struggle to open access to contraception to all women. And it has been over a third of a century since the Supreme Court acknowledged (not created) the constitutional privacy right of women to complete freedom of conscience in dealing with unintended or problem pregnancies, and the right of physicians to help implement that right. But here we are in 2011, still having to fight to protect reproductive choice.
On August 1, a federal judge shot down an attempt by Kansas to deny public funding to Planned Parenthood clinics even though federal law prohibits the use of public funds for abortions. In June, another federal judge in Kansas blocked enforcement of the state’s new law that seeks to shut down all abortion clinics.
Also on August 1, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (who happens to be Catholic) announced new standards that will require health insurance plans to cover all government-approved contraceptives for women, without co-payment or other charges. The new requirements are to take effect on August 1, 2012. The new regulations also mandate a full range of women’s health-care services.
The Catholic bishops and the largely Evangelical Family Research Council, oblivious to the actual beliefs and practices of people in the real world, objected, apparently out of nostalgia for the malignantly patriarchalist misogyny of the past.
Submission to ‘Hims and Hymns’
Lisa Miller, writing in the Washington Post (July 30), reported on the campaign by the likes of Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin, and Penny Nance of Concerned Women of America to redefine the words feminism and feminist to include women who oppose reproductive freedom of conscience and choice and who believe that women should “submit” to “hims and hymns.” This is clearly a sad, sick joke.
One might ask, if by some almost infinitely improbable quirk of fate Michele Bachmann (who stated not long ago that the battles of Lexington and Concord occurred in New Hampshire) were to occupy the White House, would she be “submissive” to her hubby, the guy who ordered her to study tax law and whose “clinic” has accepted federal funding to “pray away gay”?
Real feminists support reproductive freedom of conscience.