December 2020 Church & State Magazine - December 2020

Looking Down Ballot: Issues Affecting Church-State Separation Appeared In Several States

  Rob Boston

The presidential race dominated the headlines, but we shouldn’t forget the host of other noteworthy developments from Election Day. Here is a roundup of items you might find interesting:

• 2020 turned out to be a good year for LGBTQ candidates. In Oklahoma, Mauree Turner will be the first non-binary member of the state House of Representatives. Turner, who is Muslim, won the seat easily, defeating Republican Kelly Barlean with 71% of the vote. In Delaware, Sarah McBride, who is transgen­der, won a seat in the state senate. McBride will be the highest-ranking transgender elected official in the United States.

In Georgia, Kim Jackson became that state’s first openly lesbian member of the state Senate. (LGBTQ candidates did well in races in other parts of the country.)

• Two states had abortion-related questions on their ballots. In Loui­si­ana, voters approved a measure to amend the state constitution to explicitly state that it does not contain any right to abortion and that pub­lic funding of abortion is banned. The measure passed easily, 62% to 38%. In Colorado, voters rejected a measure that would have banned abortions after 22 weeks of pregnancy. It failed with 59% in opposition.

State abortion measures are important: If the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, the issue will revert to state legislatures.

• In Washington state, 58% of voters approved Referendum 90, which will require the state’s public school districts to teach sexual health educa­tion. The measure states that schools may choose a curriculum from several options or create their own. If a school chooses to draft its own, officials must submit it to the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

• Nevada voters added protections for marriage equality to the state constitution. The measure passed with 62%; the vote makes Nevada the first state to protect that right in its constitution. This type of protection could become important if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Obergefell v. Hodges, the five-year-old ruling declaring marriage equality a right under the U.S. Constitution. If that happens, the matter will revert to the states. (Two justices have already signaled a desire to overturn Obergefell, and the addition of Amy Coney Barrett to the court may strengthen their hand.)

• Arizona voters approved Proposition 208, a measure designed to boost public school spending in the state. The measure will impose an additional 3.5 percent tax on single people who earn more than $250,000 annually and couples who earn more than $500,000, with the funds earmarked for public schools. The final tally was 52% for to 48% against.  Advocates of public education have been on a roll in the Grand Canyon State. The vote marks another victory for them. In 2018, they rolled back a private school voucher expan­sion through a ballot referendum. (See “Saving Arizona,” January 2019 Church & State.)

Issues like LGBTQ rights, reproductive freedom and public education are closely connected to religious freedom and church-state separation. Many of the people who attack these things do so based on fundamentalist religious beliefs. While religious freedom gives everyone the right to believe as they choose about these social issues, it also guarantees that our shared secular laws are not based on religious beliefs and that one person’s religion is not used to harm others.               



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