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Good news, so far.

November 3, 1992, was a pretty good day for church-state separation, religious liberty, and women's rights.

The Bush-Quayle White House team, unequivocally hostile to these values, was replaced by Bill Clinton and Al Gore, both of whom oppose tax credit for sectarian schools and favor freedom of conscience on abortion. And on the same day that the White House changed hands, voters in Maryland, Arizona, and Colorado strongly backed church, state separation.

Colorado voters, by 65 percent to 35 percent, defeated a proposed state constitutional amendment which would have provided about $85 million per year to sectarian private schools and home, school programs. Arizona voters, by better than two to one, turned down a proposed amendment which would have outlawed nearly all abortions.

In Maryland, the situation was a bit more complicated. Anti-choice forces had successfully petitioned for a referendum on a bill, passed by the legislature in 1991, which codified Roe v. Wade's freedom-of-choice ruling into state law. Defenders of choice, then, had to get voters to approve the measure, while the anti-choice forces had to confuse enough of Maryland's pro-choice majority to defeat the bill.

The Catholic church hierarchy and fundamentalist groups went all out with a $1.5 million statewide disinformation campaign that, while carefully concealing its anti-choice motives, tried to portray Question 6 as a "radical" law that would harm women and allow questionable practices. In September, clerics in Catholic parishes throughout the state used their pulpits to solicit support and money for the disinformation campaign.

Pro-choice Marylanders were plainly worried and came out in droves to hand out "Vote FOR Question 6" leaflets at the polls. (I put in 13 straight hours at my precinct poll on November 3.) When the votes were counted, Maryland's choice bill had won by a resounding 61 percent to 39 percent.

Not only did a pro-choice, pro-church-state separation slate win in the White House, but gains were also made in the congressional elections. The four women elected to the Senate (plus reelected Senator Barbara Mikulski) are all pro-choice, as are nearly all of the 47 women elected or reelected to the House. On the national level, then, we can expect Congress to continue to oppose the voucher plan for tax support of sectarian private schools, as it did throughout 1992. Congress will at last pass, and President Clinton will sign, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, designed to correct the Supreme Court's five-to-four Smith ruling downgrading free-exercise-of-religion claims against state action.

Congress will also pass, and President Clinton will sign, the Freedom of Choice Act to protect abortion rights from adverse state action. Clinton will probably rescind the Reagan-Bush gag rule which forbids family-planning clinic professionals from discussing abortion with clients (unless Congress voids the gag rule first). A Clinton administration should give more favorable treatment to RU-486, the French-developed abortifacient drug which also seems to have other uses in treating a variety of diseases.

The climate should also be more favorable for Congress to liberalize Medicaid funding for abortions for Poor women, and Congress will at last be able to allow the District of Columbia to set its own policies on such funding.

Clinton's victory should also, in time, tend to correct the Reagan-Bush tilt of the federal judiciary against civil liberties and church-state separation. Finally, especially with Al Gore as vice-president, the Clinton administration should reverse the 12-year Reagan-Bush Slant away from concern with the environmental and population crises. (Gore's book Earth in the Balance is an excellent treatment of those subjects.)

But wait! While the November 3 election results were generally good for church-state separation, we are by no means out of the woods yet. Correcting the course of the federal judiciary back toward support of basic liberties will not be accomplished overnight, especially since 70 percent of sitting federal judges were appointed by Reagan and Bush. Furthermore, the religious right, though dealt setbacks, is far from dead.

California will have a referendum in 1993 or 1994, depending on developments in the state courts, on a multi-billion-dollar voucher plan for sectarian private schools. Continuing victories for church-state separation referenda are by no means guaranteed. In January, the Pennsylvania and Wisconsin legislatures will face renewed campaigns to get voucher and tuition tax-credit parochiaid plans passed, and similar drives could begin in other states.

(By the way, useful tools in the struggle to block tax support for sectarian schools are two books, Church Schools and Public Money: The Politics of Parochiaid, which I cowrote with Al Menendez, and Menendez's latest book, Visions of Reality: What Fundamentalist Schools Teach. Both are available for $14.95 each from Americans for Religious Liberty, Box 6656, Silver Spring, MD 20916.)

On another front, the fundamentalist right has not given up on its fight to get evolution out of public-school science classes or to get "equal time" for so-called scientific creationism. It is now trying to get creationism bootlegged retail into public-school classrooms; in Maryland, for example, petitions are being circulated to get the legislature to mandate creationism in public schools, and similar tactics will almost certainly be attempted in other states.

In the wake of the November 3 election, the religious right is adopting new strategies. It will work quietly to get its people elected to local school boards and city councils. It will continue to use conservative churches to promote its political agenda. While Chnton and Gore - both Southemers and members of Southern Baptist churches - won impressive victories in Northeastern, Midwestern, and Western states, they did not do too well in their own region, thanks largely to the substantial political activity of the religious right. Televangelist Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition will continue to be a force to be reckoned with; after all, it was able to distribute 40 million pieces of candidate literature during the 1992 campaign.

November 3 was a good day for church-state separation and democratic values. But many major battles remain to be fought and won.

Edd Doerr has served on the board of directors of the American Humanist Association for the past eight years and is executive director of Americans for Religious Liberty.
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Title Annotation:CHurch and State; 1992 election and church-state issues
Author:Doerr, Edd
Publication:The Humanist
Article Type:Column
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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