South Carolina’s second-highest paid employee was in a bit of a predicament last week. He has been accused in the past of using taxpayer money to proselytize, and now he finds himself under fire thanks to an award from an organization with a history of attacking LGBT rights.
Pre-filed bills for the 2015 legislative session indicate that separation of church and state is under threat in South Carolina. These bills include two school choice measures that would create more opportunities for subsidies of private religious education.
Senate Bill 24 would allow parents to deduct the cost of private sectarian education, as well as homeschooling, from their annual state income taxes. Critics of the bill slam it for allowing special incentives for families who choose sectarian schools.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) and a state senator sparred this week over a Haley appointee’s alleged atheism, and it was quite a spat.
The Supreme Court made it clear decades ago that our public schools aren’t meant to be places for spreading religion. But for legislators in three states, court rulings are no deterrent to their dogmatic agendas.
Lawmakers in South Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee are debating bills that are designed, supporters say, to “put prayer back in schools.” The tactics vary, but in each case the desired outcome is the same: a potentially unconstitutional violation of the separation of church and state. And the legislators behind the bills aren’t shy about their motivations.
There is good news and bad news from the state of South Carolina today.
Let’s start with the good news: Members of the Florence School District 1 School Board have agreed to stop sending sectarian email messages to staff after Americans United advised against the practice.
My first job in Washington, D.C., was with a non-profit that served the correctional community. In 1986, a bunch of us on the staff spent the night in a new state-of-the-art jail that had just been constructed in Prince George’s County, Md. We wore jail uniforms and ate dry sandwiches for dinner. The lights snapped off at 10 p.m. sharp and came back on at 6 the next morning.
That was my only brush with the correctional system – and it was enough.
Yesterday was primary election day in a number of states. Several candidates who ran on platforms bashing church-state separation fared poorly.
Here are some results that might be of interest:
Americans United has pointed out many times that public schools need not be “religion-free” zones. There are ways students can meet for prayer or to read religious texts – but it has to be their choice.
In Georgetown, S.C., a local resident, Violet Infinger, had been coming onto school grounds for 10 years to pray with students and pass out religious literature.