“Vagina. The passage leading from the uterus to the vulva.” So says the 1998 Webster’s American Family Dictionary, a “family” reference work “to record the standard vocabulary of American English in a way that reflects the common ethical, moral, religious, social, and civic values of mainstream Americans.” This 1,124-page volume is so prissy that it does not include any of the common four-letter verbs, nouns, and expletives that are all too often used on cable television. Yet vagina made the cut.
What, then, are we to make of the mid-June flap in the Michigan House of Representatives when Rep. Lisa Brown (D-West Bloomfield) actually uttered the word vagina in a floor debate on Republican efforts to further restrict women’s reproductive rights of conscience? GOP Majority Floor Leader Jim Stamas decreed that Brown could not address that august body of solons. Brown, ten other lawmakers, and several actresses then performed Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues on the Michigan statehouse steps before thousands.
“Voucher. A form authorizing a disbursement of cash or a credit against a future expenditure or expense.” This from the same dictionary. In today’s politics, voucher means a school voucher for the transfer of funds from the public treasury to pay for education services at a private, generally religious school operated by a church, synagogue, mosque, or temple. A variant of the voucher idea is the tuition tax credit, also known as a tax-code voucher or back-door voucher.*
Recent years have seen a sharp escalation of the drive to divert public funds to private church-related schools in Congress and state legislatures through vouchers or tax-code vouchers—despite the fact that in twenty-six statewide referenda, tens of millions of voters from coast to coast have rejected vouchers or their analogues by the average landslide margin of 2 to 1. A 2011 Gallup education poll registered opposition to vouchers at 65 to 34 percent, the opposite of what one might expect given the unrelenting conservative propaganda assault on public education.
Vagina and voucher: two V words that symbolize the coordinated campaigns of the religious Right, Catholic bishops, fundamentalist preachers, piranha pundits, and other ultraconservative extremists who have consolidated their control over the once-respected party of Abraham Lincoln to make war on women, reproductive choice, religiously neutral public education, religious freedom, and the fundamental American principle of separation of church and state. These campaigns are offensive and threatening not only to the increasingly secular portions of our society but also to most mainstream Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and others. Church-related schools are the tools of the myrmidons of misogyny.
Recent years have seen a drastic upswing in the well-organized, well-funded ultraconservative efforts in Congress and the states. Myriads of clever, intricate gimmicks have been devised to shrink women’s rights—to chip away at the remarkable level of access to contraception and abortion acknowledged (not created) by the Supreme Court in 1973 in Roe v. Wade and earlier in Griswold v. Connecticut and Baird v. Eisenstadt.
This November’s elections could be the most important in our lifetimes. If the Republicans win the White House, Congress, and even more statehouses, government will be in the hands of extremists who will accelerate the privatization of education, shred religious freedom, and strangle women’s rights.
“The Great School Voucher Fraud” is the title of my 8,500-word position paper available on the Center for Inquiry website. Check it out.
* See Stephanie Saul, “Public Money Finds Back Door to Private Schools,” New York Times, May 22, 2012; and Sean Cavanaugh, “Tax Credit Strategy Fuels Private School Choice Push,” Education Week, June 1, 2012.