Church-state related legislation is popping up all around the country, and AU is on the case. Here are some things that happened in the states last week:
Florida: AU submitted testimony on behalf of Harry Parrott, Clay County Chapter President, opposing HB 351, a bill that claims to prevent the enforcement of foreign laws in Florida Courts. The Courts are already empowered to refuse to enforce foreign law judgments when they violate Florida and U.S. laws, however, making this bill needless. This, like similar bills being pushed in other states, is really motivated by anti-Muslim animus and a manufactured fear that Sharia Law is being implemented in the U.S. The bills before the legislatures no longer make mention of Sharia Law, but the rhetoric surrounding them remains the same. Sharia Law is not a threat in the U.S., making this bill unnecessary and unacceptable.
Kansas: HB 2203 would adopt a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to strengthen the protection of religious exercise in Kansas. Unfortunately, the bill language goes too far. It would allow people to trump civil rights and anti-discrimination laws in the name of religion, turning religion into an excuse to discriminate. AU submitted testimony against this bill on behalf of Vickie Stangl, President of the Wichita Chapter, arguing that, as written, the bill would limit freedoms of the people of Kansas, not protect them.
Oklahoma: Another so-called “academic freedom” bill, SB 758, is threatening to undermine science education and religious freedom in Oklahoma public schools. The clear purpose of the bill is to introduce creationism to Oklahoma students by encouraging teachers to emphasize the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution. Teaching this false scientific controversy is used to invite religious discussion into the science classrooms of public schools, violating the Constitution. If you are from Oklahoma, voice your opinion – tell your legislators to reject this bill.
Alaska: HJR 1 would repeal provisions of the Alaska Constitution that prohibit the state from spending taxpayer money for religious school tuition. AU submitted testimony against this resolution, explaining the value of the current constitutional protections and the danger of private school vouchers—the ultimate goal of the repeal. Vouchers have proven to be ineffective and lack accountability and civil rights protections. After the bill’s first hearing last week, the committee will review it again this Friday.
Oregon: SJR 23 would amend the Oregon Constitution to permit tuition tax credits to pay for private school tuition, which will most often be used at religiously affiliated schools. We submitted testimony opposing the resolution, explaining that voucher programs violate the principle of church state separation, fail our students, fund discrimination, and take away money from public schools.
Wisconsin: In his State of the State address last month, Governor Walker set out his plan to vastly expand the state’s failed voucher program. Yet, studies of the Wisconsin program demonstrate that the program has not improved academic achievement or provided greater educational opportunities. These private and religious schools that receive these vouchers are also not held to the same accountability measures and civil rights laws as public schools, providing no regulations or protections for Wisconsin’s most disadvantaged students. If you are from Wisconsin, tell your state legislators to oppose this plan.
AU continues to protect church state separation on the federal and state level. Want to get involved? Check out our action center.