Religious Right groups are crowing about the results of yesterday’s elections, and they have reason to: There’s no doubt that the next Congress is going to be more welcoming to right wingers who are obsessed with social issues.
With so many more far-right conservatives coming into Congress, it’s inevitable that we’ll see a ramping up of the “culture wars.” That’s unfortunate because I doubt that’s what most people were voting for yesterday.
Even with their new majority, Republicans won’t have enough votes to override presidential vetoes. The nation will likely see more gridlock and more time wasted on symbolic votes that are designed to advance an ideological agenda, not achieve lasting policy goals. We may even see an effort to impeach President Barack Obama. It’s bound to fail, but some on the far right seem to believe it would be good political theater.
The gridlock is especially unfortunate, and it will impact an area that’s very important for church-state relations: the courts.
Many of us have been disappointed with aspects of Obama’s church-state record (no changes in the “faith-based” initiative, U.S. Justice Department took the wrong side in the municipal prayer case Town of Greece v. Galloway, etc.), but one area where he has made a real difference has been the federal courts. In the main, Obama’s judicial appointments have been good and have helped steer the courts in a more moderate direction. That will now likely come to a screeching halt. Republicans will have little reason to put more of Obama’s judges on the bench.
Religious Right groups will undoubtedly interpret the results as a mandate for an aggressive, far-right social issues agenda. In fact, social issues didn’t dominate this campaign. Voter turnout was lackluster, and the main message many Americans seemed to project was ennui. As often happens in midterm elections, the base spoke, not the average American. And the simple fact is, the far-right base was more motivated this time.
The battle for the Senate dominated headlines for months. But there were other races AU was watching. Here is some information about them:
Alabama: Voters approved Amendment 1, which has been interpreted as a backdoor way to ban Islamic law in the state. The proposal doesn’t mention sharia by name but bars courts from applying “any law, rule or legal code system used outside of the United States or by any other people, group or culture different from the people of the United States or the State of Alabama.” The vote was 72.3 percent for to 27.7 percent against.
Hawaii: Voters rejected Amendment 4, which would have altered the state constitution to allow for public funding of private preschool programs, many of which are sectarian. Fifty-two percent opposed the measure.
Georgia: Religious Right activist Jody Hice was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Hice is a Baptist minister in Bethlehem, Ga., known for his anti-gay activism and “Christian nation” worldview. In 2008, Americans United reported him to the IRS after Hice gave a sermon instructing his flock to vote for U.S. Sen. John McCain for president.
Colorado: Gordon James Klingenschmitt, a former Navy chaplain and Religious Right activist, won a seat in the Colorado House of Representatives. Klingenschmitt’s tenure in the Navy was controversial because he refused to follow the orders of superiors and cease praying in the name of Jesus at public events. He later announced that he was praying for the death of AU Executive Director Barry W. Lynn.
Maryland: Neo-Confederate and “Christian nation” activist Michael Peroutka won a seat on the Anne Arundel, Md., County Council. During the race, Peroutka attacked the teaching of evolution in public schools, and in a 2011 speech stated, “What I am saying is that the promotion of evolution is an act of disloyalty to America. What I am saying is that there is no way you can promote or believe in evolution and sing ‘God Bless America’ during the seventh-inning stretch. You either believe in creation by which you have rights that government is designed to protect, or you believe that all men are slime and that you have no rights at all.”
Pennsylvania: Controversial Gov. Tom Corbett (R), who slashed $1 billion from the state’s public school budget while promoting a voucher-like tax credit plan, ran for a second term and lost. He was defeated by Tom Wolf, who highlighted his support for public education during the race. In the waning days of the campaign, a Religious Right group called ACTION of PA tried to derail Wolf by issuing a press release asserting that if elected, he will tax people to pay for gender-reassignment surgery.
Finally, two states – Colorado and North Dakota – had “personhood” amendments on their ballots. The provisions would have declared fetuses persons with legal rights. Both were defeated. However, Tennessee voters approved an amendment to the state constitution making it clear that nothing in the document “secures or protects a right to abortion.”
Remember, Americans United is a non-partisan organization composed of people of many different religious, philosophical and political beliefs. We’ve been at this for more than 65 years. During that time, numerous political changes have buffeted the White House and Congress. Through it all, we’ve continued with our mission: Protecting the right of conscience for all by defending the separation of church and state. We will keep doing that, regardless of which party occupies the White House, the House of Representatives or the Senate.