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Reflection on the Elections

By now you have read, heard, and seen numerous postmortems on the November 3, 1998, elections. I'll not go over that ground again but will offer some observations about the church-state implications of the elections that have not received much attention.

Generally underreported was Colorado voters' 59.1 percent to 40.9 percent defeat of a proposed state constitutional amendment intended to channel substantial public funds away from public schools to sectarian and other private schools through a complicated, Rube Goldbergesque voucherlike tuition taxcredit scheme. Amendment 17 was defeated despite its supporters outspending the defenders of church-state separation and public education by a two-to-one margin, and despite the fact that Republicans in Colorado won big the same day.

Colorado voters defeated a tuition voucher proposal in 1992 by a two-to-one margin. This year's referendum was the twenty-third such statewide vote in the nation since 1966. Voucher or similar plans were rejected in twenty-two of them by a cumulative vote margin of about two to one. There is a strong likelihood that a tuition tax-credit measure will be on the ballot in Michigan in 2000.

School vouchers played a less direct role in other elections. California Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Lungren favored vouchers and lost to Democrat Gray Davis. Republican congressional incumbents Vince Snowbarger of Kansas and William Redmond of New Mexico were strong voucher proponents and fell before Democratic challengers. In Indiana, one-term Democratic congressional incumbent Julia Carson handily defeated a Republican challenger in a race in which school vouchers were a major issue.

Syndicated pundit Charles Krauthammer insisted on November 6 that Republicans should promote school vouchers. He evidently does not study election returns.

On another hot issue with a strong church-state component--what the religious right incorrectly terms partial-birth abortions--Washington state voters defeated a proposed ban on the procedure 57 percent to 43 percent, while Colorado voters rejected a similar measure 52 percent to 48 percent.

A July 1998 poll by Peter D. Hart Research Associates found that, by 65 percent to 23 percent, Americans say there should be an exception to any proposed ban in cases where "the woman's doctor determines that the procedure is necessary to prevent serious harm to the woman's health"--the same reason President Clinton gave for twice vetoing congressional attempts to ban late-term abortions. On the other hand, Colorado voters approved a parental notification measure regarding abortions for minors by a 59 percent to 41 percent margin.

On a more general level, November 3 gave the religious right little to boast about, despite all the efforts of the Christian Coalition, with its 36 million "voter guides," James Dobson, Gary Bauer, and other theocon leaders. Religious right voters dipped from 15 percent in 1996 to 13 percent in 1998. Their numbers did not necessarily fall off, but an increase in the number of moderate and liberal voters diluted their strength. Major defeats included the crushing loss of Alabama Governor Fob James and those of Republican gubernatorial candidates in Georgia, South Carolina, and Maryland.

According to exit polls, about 30 percent of voters described themselves as religious conservatives--a term that includes many evangelicals, conservative Catholics, some Orthodox Jews, Mormons, and some Muslims. While 67 percent of religious conservatives voted for Republicans in 1994, that figure fell to 54 percent in 1998.

Judicial Inactivism

Where is "judicial activism" when you need it? On November 9, less than a week after Colorado voters clobbered the voucherlike private school tuition tax-credit scheme, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from the Wisconsin Supreme Court's atrocious June 10 ruling in favor of the Milwaukee school voucher plan.

Of course, the High Court's nonruling is just that: a nonruling. It leaves the Milwaukee plan in place but provides no clue to lawmakers in Congress and in other states as to how it might eventually rule on vouchers. If the Court--when it gets around to it--follows well-established precedent, then vouchers should be held unconstitutional. We now await Ohio Supreme Court action on the Cleveland voucher plan.

Meanwhile, the Milwaukee voucher plan will continue to drain tens of millions of dollars annually from that city's needy public schools: Milwaukee sectarian schools are raking in $4,900 per student per year--more than they spend educating and indoctrinating. Worse still, now that Milwaukee may well have charter schools--ostensibly, public schools operating under looser rules--some parochial and private schools are seeking to become charter schools, which would increase their tax rip-off to $6,100 per student. (This past October, I was one of the speakers at the conference of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Alliance of Black School Educators and could see that African American educators on the scene were well aware of the deleterious effects of the voucher plan foisted on the city by politicians in Madison.)

Vouchers and their various analogs are unpopular, unneeded, unconstitutional, uneconomical, undemocratic, unfair, underhanded, unwise, and un-American. Didn't we fight a revolution once over the notion that "taxation without representation is tyranny"?

Religio-Political Terrorism

The killing of Amherst, New York, OB/ GYN and abortion provider Dr. Barnett Slepian in late October 1998 was more than a murder. It was a political assassination and an act of religio-political terrorism intended to intimidate all health care workers whose services are vitally important to every woman's right to reproductive freedom. It was a terrorist action to further the cause of male dominance and an extreme manifestation of the drive to impose upon all women the narrow theological notion that human personhood exists prior to fetal acquisition of the neurological basis for consciousness (some time after twenty-eight weeks).

In fairness, it must be said that the vast majority of anti-choice folk are non-violent. But the rhetoric of anti-choice leaders--from the bishop of Rome, Pat Robertson, and Jerry Falwell on down--cannot help but encourage and provide a rationale for those who lack inhibitions against violence. (See the cover story of this issue further discussion of this issue.)

We should also note and appreciate that millions of American religious people--Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and others--recognize and respect the right of women to reproductive choice. They are represented in major denominations and by such organizations as Catholics for a Free Choice and the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.

The full weight of the criminal justice system must come down on anti-choice terrorism. And everyone who values freedom of conscience and the principles of the Bill of Rights must contribute in any way she or he can to keep the clinic doors open and access to reproductive health care and information unimpeded.

Edd Doerr, president of the American Humanist Association and executive director of Americans for Religious Liberty, is a member of the board of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and the author of books on school vouchers.
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Title Annotation:November, 1998 elections
Author:Doerr, Edd
Publication:The Humanist
Geographic Code:1U8CO
Date:Jan 1, 1999
Previous Article:Jefferson's Philosophical Wall of Separation.
Next Article:Avoiding Generational War.

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