The Top Ten Church-State Threats: A Surging Religious Right Means Daunting Religious Liberty Challenges for Americans United in 2012
Brown, Simon, Church & State
You don't have to look far or wide to see signs that the Religious Right was resurgent in 2011.
From the halls of Congress, where the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly urged public schools to post "In God We Trust" displays in classrooms, to the Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C., that was attended by 3,000 fundamentalist Christian activists, the Religious Right's influence loomed large.
Since 2012 is an election year, we expect the Religious Right to use this growing influence to wage an all-out war to shape the U.S. government into a body that will do its bidding.
With that in mind, here are 10 of the biggest challenges, issues and concerns that Americans United expects to confront in the coming twelve months.
Improper Involvement of Religion in the 2012 Elections
Religion has infiltrated the run-up to the 2012 elections on an unprecedented level. Virtually all of the Republican presidential candidates have spent considerable time courting votes from the Religious Right. Nearly all of the major contenders spoke at the Values Voter Summit, and most of those candidates also appeared at a forum in November focusing on "questions of the soul" that was held at a fundamentalist church in Iowa.
The Religious Right is also making a serious push to pick the Republican candidate for president. The Alliance Defense Fund held its annual "Pulpit Freedom Sunday" in October, an event designed to encourage churches to engage in illegal campaign intervention. Last year's version featured a record number of participants, and activists assume that even more will join in fray in 2012. The Religious Right is also planning to hold voter turnout drives and distribute "voter guides" that pretend to be unbiased but are not.
Religious Right strategists dream of forging fundamentalist and evangelical churches into a disciplined voting bloc to effectively dominate the democratic process.
Sadly, the presidential campaign has already included expressions of religious bigotry. Influential Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress said in October that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who is Mormon, is a member of a cult and cited his affiliation as a reason not to support his candidacy.
Critics have also questioned President Barack Obama's status as a Christian, charging falsely that he is a Muslim or at best an opponent of the Christian faith.
Article VI of the U.S. Constitution forbids religious tests for public office, and church-state separa-tionists regard attacks such as these as a violation of the spirit of that provision.
School Voucher Onslaught in the States and Congress
The Associated Press reported that 30 states explored voucher subsidies for religious and other private schools in 2011, and that number is expected to grow this year. These efforts have been driven by wealthy right-wing organizations, such as the Alliance for School Choice, which advocates for vouchers nationwide and is run by right-wing activist Betsy DeVos. Her organization and its allies provide vast resources and public relations expertise to push for school vouchers in many states.
DeVos has lots of help from the Religious Right and the Roman Catholic hierarchy because parochial schools and fundamentalist academies would be the primary beneficiary of "school choice" programs.
There is an especially sneaky attempt at voucher legislation underway in Florida, where a ballot initiative set to be considered in 2012 would allow the state to give taxpayer money to religious organizations.
Rabbi Merrill Shapiro, president of the Americans United Board of Trustees, is a plaintiff in a case filed by AU and its allies to get the initiative off the ballot, lie and others involved in the litigation say the proposed constitutional amendment misleads voters about its true effects.
Voucher bills may come up on the federal level as well. …