Religious influence on government expands

By Åsa Björklund
Staff Writer

The increasing economic influence religious groups have on American politics threatens to further jeopardize the health, rights and education of citizens, according to the Secular Coalition of America (SCA). Politicians dependent on campaign money from churches steadily pass religious-based laws, affecting citizens nation-wide on a multitude of levels, said Sean Faircloth, director of SCA, at a seminar in Prescott, March 9.

The size and power of religious lobby groups have increased, believes Serah Blain, co-founder of the Secular Student Alliance at Prescott College. She mentions the Center for Arizona Policy (CAP) and James Dobson’s Focus on the Family as examples of large organizations with millions of dollars to spend on lobbying, thus having significant influence over legislators in Arizona.

“CAP is the religious lobby organization that sponsored the suite of state legislation that will [practically] make abortion illegal in Arizona. CAP also introduced a bill that will make it more difficult to get a divorce in our state and a bill to discriminate against both single and LGBT [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender] parents in the adoption process. CAP has more than a dozen bills on their agenda this year and none of these bills have any secular, reason-based justification. They are all founded on evangelical Christian morality,” said Blain.

Secular advocates say they are not against religion, but want to keep church and state separate, as the Constitution stipulates. The First Amendment charges the government with guaranteeing religious freedom while prohibiting it from advancing the interests of any one faith. Christian herself, Blain points out that the many different faiths in the United States give even the simplest question a thousand different answers.

“We can’t deny people human rights on the basis of religion. We have to legislate based on good reasons that apply regardless of an individual’s religious ideology. If there are secular reasons for denying LGBT people the right to form legally protected, government-recognized families, we can talk about that, debate it, test the evidence and so on. But when the argument is ‘because the Bible says one man and one woman,’ there’s no longer any basis for a rational discussion,” said Blain.

State legislation that allows parents the right to deny their children medical care based on religious grounds has severely compromised children’s health and even resulted in some deaths, according to Faircloth.

In Tennessee, 15-year-old Jessica Craig died in agony because her mother did not support modern medicine on religious grounds. The state legislature gave her the right to deny her daughter treatment for a tumor.

Religiously-based exemptions have also caused child neglect. In Alabama, a religious daycare center left and forgot a two-year-old girl, Amillo White, in a van on a hot summer day. Two hours later, she died of heatstroke. Similar incidents have been reported, said Faircloth. He explained that “[Of] all the health and safety regulations that apply to childcare [centers] in the state of Alabama, the religious childcare [centers] are exempt.”

According to Faircloth, the infant mortality rate proved to be 270 percent higher in faith assembly congregations. He calls for people to speak up against this “religious fanaticism authorized by state law,” and questions where the pro-life supporters were when Jessica Craig was denied treatment for her tumor.

“But also, where were we in this room? Why aren’t we protesting, why aren’t we speaking up?” asked Faircloth.

“In 1970, there were 10 churches in the United States with more than 2,000 members each. Now there are over a thousand such churches,” said Faircloth. “But it’s not just the size of the churches, it’s also the nature of what they are doing.”

Blain has concerns about the steady number of cases recently brought to the courts in attempts to bring unscientific education, such as creationism, into public school curriculum.

“When we don’t provide fact-based education for our children, we jeopardize the ability of future generations to cope with the significant scientific challenges they will face … Fact-based education is one of the most critical moral issues of our time,” said Blain.

She also sees abstinence-only based sex education as unscientific and dangerous.    “Increases in pregnancy and STDs in abstinence-only schools are obvious indicators of the failure of these programs,” said Blain.

However controversial the subject may be, Blain wants believers and non-believers to get together and collaborate for good causes instead of arguing over religion.

“[The conversation] usually starts with whether or not there’s a God — and frankly, that’s the least relevant question in my life,” said Blain. “The most relevant question in my life is always: How am I going to improve the world around me? I won’t be on my deathbed wondering if there is or isn’t a God. I will be wondering if I am leaving the world a better place than I found it.”

For this reason, the Secular Student Alliance plans to engage productively in interfaith dialogue. Blain believes that “The war between theists and non-theists is only creating unnecessary divisiveness between groups of people. … We have a lot of common ground. We’re all human beings. Most of us value life, family, community and want a world where people are happy, healthy and free.”

This article appeared in the April 2011 print edition of The Raven Review.
One Response to “Religious influence on government expands”
  1. Prescott Resident says:

    How can Americans criticize Sharia law when we have our own form of theologically driven legislation attempting to dictate civil / social laws? The sentiments expressed by the SCA and the local student allianace representative shed light on an issue that should be alarming to Constitution respecting patriots everywhere – even though it is illegal to enact laws explicitly establishing or promoting one religion, it should also be illegal to have the agendas of one religion influence law. It shows the outright disrespect of other faiths that the Christian Right hold, their disrespect to the principles that guided our founding fathers and their utter hypocrisy of denouncing other religious nation states. Kudos to the author of this article for bringing this issue to the forefront!

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