A federal judge struck down Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban last night, calling it an unconstitutional violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. US District Court Judge Arenda Wright Allen began her decision with a lengthy quote from Mildred Loving, the plaintiff in 1967’s Loving v. Virginia, which struck down the state’s Jim Crow-era anti-miscegenation laws.
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.
It’s that time of year when people are compiling lists. So let’s look at the Top Ten Church-State Stories of 2013.
1. Greece, N.Y., prayer case argued before U.S. Supreme Court: An Americans United-sponsored lawsuit challenging legislative prayer in the city of Greece, N.Y., reached the Supreme Court.
There are educators in my family, so I know a few things about how challenging that profession can be. The hours are long, the pay is often mediocre and the working conditions are sometimes not great.
But at the same time, I’ve been taught by teachers and have encountered some at the public schools my daughter and son have attended who were born to the profession. They’re just naturals. They have a gift, and it’s hard to imagine them doing anything else.
Unfortunately, there are also people working in public schools who probably ought to be doing something else.
Legislators and media pundits in Washington, D.C., continue to obsess over the birth control mandate in the new health care law and whether church-related institutions like hospitals and colleges must provide contraceptive coverage.
While that’s going, a quieter tussle in Virginia has captured fewer national headlines. That’s a shame because a debate over adoption by same-sex couples in that state is perhaps a better indicator of where the Religious Right wants to take this country.
Let’s say you lived in Giles County, Va., a rural enclave of about 17,000 people in the southwestern portion of the state. Let’s say you were a high school student and you were opposed to the school board’s decision to post the Ten Commandments in your school.
Would you be eager to be public about it?
Some people might be willing to stick their necks out and take a public stand. Others might want to remain a little reticent but still look for ways to right this wrong – and they might seek to do so anonymously.
Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has been a thorn in Americans United’s side for the past few years. A staunch ally of the Religious Right, Cuccinelli seems to have no problem using government to promote right-wing theology.
His 2010 memo on government-sponsored holiday displays was less than helpful. Americans United had to issue a statement warning that towns that took his advice without additional legal counsel might get sued.
Public education officials in Giles County, Va., can’t say they weren’t warned.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia and the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) wrote to school officials recently telling them to remove Ten Commandments displays from the schools. The officials were also advised by their own attorney to take down the religious posters.
At first, they did. But when members of the community complained, the school board voted to put the Ten Commandments back into the schools.
If Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were around today, they would be extremely disappointed in their home state of Virginia.
The Virginia House of Delegates voted yesterday to approve two constitutional amendments that threaten church-state separation: one that promotes prayer in public places, including public schools, and another that permits taxpayer money to fund the religious training and theological education of certain students.