In South, Push for Lotteries Confronts 'Bible Belt' Values with Votes Pending in Two Southern States, the Clergy Vies with Politicians Seeking to Raise Money for Schools

By Michael Sznajderman, Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, July 13, 1999 | Go to article overview

In South, Push for Lotteries Confronts 'Bible Belt' Values with Votes Pending in Two Southern States, the Clergy Vies with Politicians Seeking to Raise Money for Schools


Michael Sznajderman, Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


On the Sunday before Alabama's most recent general election, the Rev. Joe Godfrey preached about the evils of state lotteries.

The pastor at Taylor Road Baptist Church was one of many clergymen who spoke that day about how lotteries turn the state into "the equivalent of a bookie, ... a predator seeking gain from those it is supposed to protect."

The congregations nodded in agreement. Then two days later, Alabama's pro-lottery gubernatorial candidate, Democrat Don Siegelman, steamrolled into office with 58 percent of the vote. The hunger for new state revenues is colliding again with Southern "Bible belt" values, as several states in the region approach a vote on allowing lotteries. Alabamians will decide this fall, followed later by votes in South Carolina and, possibly, Tennessee. Early indications are that Bible-belt residents will set aside their churches' disdain for gambling to try to raise money for schools. If new lotteries are approved, the votes will mark a dramatic shift in the region, which has held out against state-sanctioned gambling more than other parts of the nation. Of 13 states without lotteries, five are in the South - Alabama, both Carolinas, Tennessee, and Mississippi. Dominating the debate is the experience of Georgia, which dedicates revenues from its new lottery to a college-scholarship fund (for which every high school senior in the state is eligible). Still, efforts to install lotteries in the South usually come with a fight, often led by Christian leaders. They argue that lotteries are an improper way to raise state revenues - and they cite Scripture, among other sources, to make their case. To many religious leaders and family-values groups, the growth of state lotteries is nothing less than a sign of the nation's moral decline. "I think it's turning away from God," says Tom Blackerby, Alabama director for the American Family Association. "We're on a downhill slide.... Gambling is just part of that." For years, groups like the family association and the Christian Coalition of Alabama, along with antilottery lawmakers, kept lottery legislation from moving forward in the Alabama State House. But the success of the neighboring Georgia Lottery and its related HOPE college scholarship program has helped soften opposition, even among many churchgoers. Under Georgia's system, any student who gets a B average in high school can go to a state university tuition- free. …

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