Church/State Issues 2004
Presentation by Leona Balek, Wisconsin Chapter President, Americans United for
Separation of Church and State,
It is my great pleasure to be here at Prairie once again this morning. I’ve been here a time or two before during the 1990’s. I’m a member of First Unitarian Society – so I’m feeling very much at home.
What is Americans United
for Separation of Church & State? It
is a 501(c)3 advocacy organization with an unwieldy name – but not as unwieldy as
our original name which was “Protestants and Others United for Separation of
Church & State.” We were founded in
1947 – by of all people – the Baptists – on the premise that separation between
religion and government at all levels was best for religions as well as governments.
We are made up of people of all religious faiths (as well as those of no
particular faith belief) and work on one issue only – church-state
separation. In this way, we are
different from the ACLU, which has a much broader mandate of issues – of which
church/state separation is only one.
Our current national Executive Director, the Rev. Barry Lynn, is an
ordained minister in the United Church of Christ as well as a lawyer. Barry used to work for the ACLU and joined
Americans United in the early 1990’s.
There are other organizations
that advocate only for church/state
separation. The Interfaith Alliance,
headed by the fabulous Baptist minister, G. Welton Gaddy, is made up of only
religious people, and Madison’s own Freedom From Religion is made up of mostly
atheists and agnostics - are a couple of these organizations. Americans United networks with all
like-minded organizations on issues that we have in common – but, of course,
because we are inclusive of religious believers and non-believers alike, we at
Americans United like to think that we
best reflect the population of the
A small group of people
When the American
colonies were started, nine of the thirteen colonies were essentially
theocracies. These communities were set
up based on a particular Protestant Christian religious faith, with residents
taxed to support that faith. Only Christians could hold public office and in
practice, neither Jews nor Catholics were first-class citizens up to and
including the time of the Revolution. Early advocates for church/state
separation included Roger Williams, who was hounded out of Massachusetts and
turned Rhode Island into a colony that guaranteed religious freedom – or as he
called it, “soul liberty.” He was the
first to infer the phrase, “wall of separation between church and state” by
warning against opening “a gap in the hedge, or wall of separation, between the
garden of the church and the wilderness of the world.” Later, when the Founding Fathers were
putting together the United States Constitution, after much argument and
deliberation, they very purposely made no mention of religion in the document
except in Article Six which reads, “No religious test shall ever be required as
a qualification to any office or public trust under the
However – the First Amendment applied only to the Federal Government and still left the individual states to write whatever they wanted into their own constitutions. The result was essentially a Protestant religious establishment in many states, with all kinds of public tax support for religious activities.
This situation presumably changed with the passage of
the Fourteenth Amendment after the Civil War. This amendment makes the Bill of
Rights binding on the states – the process known as “incorporation.” However, the Fourteenth Amendment was more or
less ignored by a succession of ultraconservative Supreme Courts in the latter
half of the nineteenth century. Finally,
after the turn of the century, the legal tide began to change, and by 1940 the
High Court ended all doubt that the states must abide by the entire Bill of
Rights in the case of Cantwell v.
(As an aside, to this day
I wonder how, under the Wisconsin Constitution, we can be spending millions on
vouchers for religious K-12 indoctrination in many choice program
What are our issues at Americans United right now in 2004? On the national level, they are, broadly speaking:
1. The President’s “Faith-based Initiative” which results in Taxpayer-Funded Religious Discrimination
2. Church Electioneering – endorsing political candidates from the pulpit
3. Free Exercise of Religion Issues
4. Marriage and Family Life Issues
5. Religion in Public Life Issues
6. Religion in the Public Schools – including curriculum issues such as the teaching of Creationism as Science
7. Religious Symbols on Public Property
8. Vouchers and other forms of Religious School Funding
9. Judicial Nominations
The Americans United national web site (www.au.org) keeps a running log of the most recent national issues titled, “Latest News.” A few items they listed this past week are:
1. AU thinks the House vote on the Marriage Amendment is an Election Year Stunt – intended to give “election ammo” to the Religious Right. (The marriage amendment defines marriage as being only between a man and a woman.)
2. AU urges churches to reject the biased Christian Coalition Voter Guides – in order to avoid partisan politicking that may result in the loss of the church’s tax exemption.
3. AU condemns the House passage of the ‘Pledge Protection Act’ because it is a dramatic assault on individual rights. This bill prohibits federal courts from hearing legal challenges to the inclusion of the words ‘under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance. (It is expected to die in the Senate.)
4. AU condemns the passage by a Senate Committee
of a sizable cash appropriation to restore and repair 21 historic
5. Americans United strongly objected to the House Constitution subcommittee featuring a presentation by the disgraced, removed from office, Judge Roy Moore – of the Ten Commandments monument in the Alabama Supreme Courthouse fame.
These are just a few issues, of wildly varying importance, that Americans United has been looking at this past week.
Now – what’s going on in
In my mind, the two
biggest religious issues to come up
First, the “Conscience Clause” bill. According to the analysis by the Legislative Reference Bureau, AB 67 makes changes to current law regarding: 1. employment discrimination based on creed; 2. refusals of certain health care providers and hospital employees to participate in certain procedures on moral or religious grounds; and 3. duties of physicians regarding power of attorney for health care instruments and patient declarations authorizing the withholding or withdrawal of life-sustaining procedures or feeding tubes. It would also add pharmacists as protected workers.” The bill would exempt from legal redress all these health care workers from lawsuits brought for their withholding of medical services based on religious belief. Both houses of the current state legislature passed this bill, but Governor Doyle vetoed it earlier this year saying, “I don’t believe medical care should depend on whether a medical practitioner has a problem with the treatment.” This issue is dead for now, but you can be sure it will be brought up again if the political make-up of the legislature doesn’t change. (Incidentally, Americans United does not take a position on the abortion issue per.se., but does agree with Governor Doyle on the “conscience clause” legislation – which cover much broader issues. )
Another issue making many
The issue I consider the
most important church/state issue in
Regarding religious school
vouchers, please keep in mind that just because one U.S. Supreme Court decision
said religious school vouchers are legal in
Other contentious church/state issues crop up regularly in this state – such as the Ten Commandments monument in the LaCrosse public park, requiring all public and private school students either to say the Pledge of Allegiance or sing The National Anthem each day, the use of Police Chaplains to provide security for Presidential campaign events, etc., etc. – issues which we keep on top of as best we can. However, new issues keep surfacing with regularity in our legislature as it is presently constituted politically. This situation keeps us on our toes – and we keep on working to keep religion and government separate here in the Badger state.
With that I’ll close, except to say that if you or someone you know would like a speaker for any religious, community organization or group of people anywhere in the State on the subject of Church/State issues, we provide a free service. There are several issue brochures and copies of our monthly magazine, Church & State, on the table for you to help yourself to if you’re interested. If you have any questions, I’ll be glad to talk to you after the service concludes.
Thank you for inviting me here today.
DON’T VOTE UNTIL
YOU’VE ASKED YOUR CANDIDATE
THESE 5 QUESTIONS
1. What role should and do your religious faith and values play in creating public policy?
2. What are your views on the Constitutional guarantee of the separation of church and state?
3. What active steps have you taken and will you continue to take to show respect for the variety of religious beliefs among your constituents?
4. Should a political leader’s use of religious language reflect the language of his/her religious tradition or be more broadly inclusive?
5. How do you balance the principles of your faith and your pledge to defend the Constitution, particularly when the two come into conflict?
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