06 April 2005

Religious Right: Be careful what you wish for

President George W. Bush has aggressively reached out to people of faith, trying to cement their loyalty within the GOP. One of his election promises, which has appeared to be nothing but empty campaign rhetoric, was to implement his faith-based program. Of course, nearly nothing has been done and the religious right has almost nothing to show for their efforts in the last election; however, the plan is on the table. Now, the issue has hit the Florida Legislature, and it may remind the religious right of that old saying: "Be careful what you wish for."

On Monday, the Florida Senate Government Efficiency Appropriations Committee approved Senate Bill 2, which is the upper chamber's voucher bill. An amendment was attached to the bill that would prohibit religious discrimination by private schools that receive public money through one of the state's voucher programs. The amendment was challenged by Senators Bill Posey (R-Rockledge) and Jeff Atwater (R-North Palm Beach), but they were unsuccessful.

"So if a Nazi wanted to go to a Jewish school wearing a swastika, the school would have to let them?" asked Posey. Of course, Posey's real concern was that Christian schools would no longer be able to discriminate in their admissions process, but he decided to use a typical GOP scare tactic of citing the Nazis in order to persuade the committee's lone Jewish member, Senator Steven A. Geller. Fortunately, Geller didn't bite and voted for the amendment.

Thomas Jefferson called for a "Separation of Church and State," and constitutional experts have theorizing that this is what was implied when the founding fathers created the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The founding fathers may have been correct. The religious right may be seeing its first hint that faith-based programs could be poison to their congregations. The Separation of Church and State was not meant to protect government from religion; it was meant to protect religion from government. The religious right is opening a pandora's box and will probably regret in the long run their decision to seek government welfare.

Faith-based private schools are quick to run to the Congress and Legislature looking for a handout, but they need to be careful. By accepting the government's money, these schools may be opening themselves to being required to fall under the government's rules. If you look at the laws passed by the politicians in Washington and Tallahassee, it is clear that we need more religion in government. (How many politicians do you think ask "What would Jesus do?" when they vote on a budget that rewards the wealthy and neglects the poor?) But what we don't need is more government in religion. Unfortunately, this might be what the religious right will be bringing to your local congregation, whether they intended or not.

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