World of the Culture Wars
In a time when the wounds of budget cuts are still wide open, one might think that the federal and state governments alike would be focusing their energies on the economy. In fact, a new poll indicates that 72% of Americans believe the economy will continue to falter in the next year rather than improve and 51% do not think they will able to retain their current standard of living. While these numbers show how ingrained America’s economic health is in the mind of the people, some state and federal legislators have decided to instead spend countless hours legislating the individual conscience.
In what is just the latest battle in the “culture war” American politicians have concocted, Florida Gov. Rick Scott is poised to sign S.B. 98, a bipartisan bill that passed the state legislature and will reinstitute prayer in public schools. Never mind that students currently have the right to pray individually on school grounds, and never mind that this legislation is inherently unconstitutional.
In November, Floridians will also vote on potential amendments to the state constitution, two of which are part of the time warp America’s dialogue on social policy has entered into. Amendment 6 redundantly prohibits the use of state funds for abortion services, and Amendment 7 seeks to repeal a 126-year-old ban on state taxpayer funds being awarded to private, religious institutions.
These legislative attempts in Florida are characteristic of what many state legislatures have been spending their time on this session. In the past three months, a half-dozen states have introduced legislation meant to invalidate the teaching of evolution as an accepted scientific curriculum and replace it with creationism or “intelligent design.” Numerous high-level court cases have held that teaching creationism or “intelligent design” in public schools is unconstitutional, yet legislators continue to look for creative solutions around the court decisions.
One state north, Georgia is moving forward with legislation that would allow the Ten Commandments to hang in all government buildings. Lawsuits concerning similar legislation are already underway in five other states. Oklahoma and Arizona, among others, want to define life as beginning from the moment of conception and afford a fertilized egg full legal rights. Oklahoma is also attempting to repeal the section in its state Constitution that protects state from religion and religion from state in an obvious attempt to allow taxpayer dollars to flow freely to private, religious institutions and schools.
The U.S. Congress is also the scene of extreme attempts to legislate religious tenets into American life. Recent legislation to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act included a section that would have allowed voucher programs to send federal dollars to religious schools (the Union for Reform Judaism joined a letter decrying this provision, which has since been removed from the bill). A heated debate over women’s health has erupted in Congress, recently culminating in a hearing about women’s health at which no woman was allowed to testify and the defeat of the Blunt Amendment, which could have allowed any employer to refuse to provide insurance coverage for procedures they deemed to violate their religious conscience.
When will the attacks on religious diversity and religious liberty end? The “culture war” of American values must quiet and the founding principle of separation between church and state must once again be the guiding light of sound policy.