Religious Right activists and their political allies are adept at conjuring up ghosts, especially when they need to scare up lots of voters on Election Day.
With a presidential election and lots of other important races on the ballot this year, Religious Right tacticians are looking for ways to propel their kind to the polls in November.
In Missouri, for example, the House of Representatives spent time earlier this week debating a proposed constitutional amendment aimed at alleviating a supposed hostility toward Christianity in the public square.
The truth is that rampant anti-Christian or anti-religious hostility doesn't exist in Missouri, and the likely reason Missouri lawmakers are contemplating the proposed ballot referendum is to spur a larger turnout of so-called "values voters."
Rep. Mike McGhee (R-Odessa) is pushing the amendment (H.J.R. 55), which states that citizens – including students in public schools -- have the right to pray. The U.S. Constitution's First Amendment has long provided citizens and students free expression and religious liberty. But McGhee, during the floor debate, claimed that there have been too many instances of children being harassed for praying or bringing their Bibles to school.
"These activities are OK," McGhee maintained. "We just want to let the teachers and principals know that."
When pressed by Rep. Trent Skaggs (D-North Kansas City) for specifics of these alleged attacks on students' rights, McGhee was unable to respond.
Said Skaggs, "They're playing politics with the sanctity of prayer."
Other lawmakers specifically tagged McGhee and his allies for pushing a measure of "meaningless verbiage designed to go on to the ballot to drive religious conservatives to the polls in November," as The Kansas City Star put it.
David Kimball, a political science professor at the University of Missouri, agreed, telling the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that ballot measures such as this one are all about drawing like-minded voters to the polls.
"If they cared so much about this, they could have done this years ago," Kimball told the newspaper.
The professor noted that ballot initiatives have a way of popping up more and more during heated election cycles. For example, anti-gay marriage ballot initiatives appear to be a favorite tool, cropping up every four years.
The Missouri House has approved McGhee's proposed amendment. Before it reaches Missouri voters, however, the Missouri Senate must support it.
Hopefully the Religious Right shenanigan will be foiled. Hostility against religion in the public square, whether in the nation's Bible Belt or elsewhere, is a Religious Right ploy to rile supporters, raise money and prod folks to the polls. No such hostility exists, and lawmakers should stop wasting time carrying water for Religious Right activists.
The reality is that the federal courts have not yanked God out of the public square. Federal courts have merely barred public officials, including public school teachers and administrators, from promoting religion. And that's as it should be. We're a nation of secular laws, not sectarian ones.