We had planned to have State Representative Stacey Newman, who represents the 87th district give us an update on happenings in the legislature, but her work in Jefferson City kept her there. However, we were very pleased and fortunate to have Anti-defamation League Region Director Karen Aroesty provide a broader view of the law with respect to religious freedom. The meeting was at 7:00 pm on April 20 at The Center of Clayton, 50 Gay Avenue in Clayton. Light refreshments were served, and over twenty members attended. This was also our official Annual Meeting, and four current board members were re-elected.
Rev. Lynn has provided outstanding leadership to AU for 25 years. He has visited our Chapter many times, and will be missed. The announcement of his retirement at the end of 2017 is on the AU national website.
Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia would like to get public funding to improve their preschool playground. After their application to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources was denied, they sued in federal court, claiming that they had been discriminated against. They lost in that trial but appealed to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, which also ruled against them. In January 2016, the Supreme Court agreed to hear their case, and it has now been scheduled for arguments on April 19. The details of the case are described in Church and State: http://au.org/media/press-releases/mo-church-has-no-right-to-taxpayer-funds-americans-united-and-allies-tell-us. The most recent development is that Missouri Attorney General Hawley has appointed James Layton, who served under previous Attorney General Koster to defend Missouri’s Blaine Amendment.
We had another successful Movie Night on February 16 at The Ethical Society. The video was the award-winning documentary, “The Revisionaries”, by Scott Thurman. It is the story of the Texas State Board of Education’ decisions on curricula, that determine the content of textbooks throughout the country for years at a time. The 2010 round of decisions was dominated by the religious right. This video tells the complicated story of the “standards” decision and how the two sides battled over the contents of American education. The Ethical Society was again our host for the evening, and we enjoyed the much-improved sound system for the video setup that we have donated to the Society.
This event could not have been more topical. A story about the 2017 battle over evolution in Texas textbooks appeared in the Post-Dispatch for February 1, 2017.
YOU SHOULDA BEEN THERE!
Americans United—St. Louis Holiday party was on December 29. A good group of supporters of Church/State Separation met to celebrate the holidays and gird our loins for the challenges of 2017
Arrangements were made through our MeetUp page. If you are not yet registered for the MeetUp, please do so right away, so that you will not miss upcoming events.
The link is: MeetUp page, https://www.meetup.com/Americans-United-for-Separation-of-Church-and-State
Amendment 3 purports to fund early childhood education and health programs with proceeds from an increase in the state tax on cigarettes (Missouri’s is lowest in the country). Opposition to Amendment 3 is widespread, including both gubernatorial candidates, a bipartisan majority of the state legislature, and the American Lung Association, the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, Missouri Cures, the National Education Association, and many others.
But why does AU care?
Amendment 3 would carve out a loophole in our state constitution’s ban on providing aid to religious schools with public funds. By creating an exemption to Article IX, Section 8 of the Missouri Constitution, Amendment 3 could result in sending public funds to private, religious schools.
Amendment 3 would establish a permanent “Early Childhood Commission” that must include an appointed representative of the “faith community” (which is undefined). The Commission would be responsible for distributing millions of dollars of tax money and because the Amendment also creates a constitutional loophole, recipients could include religious organizations.
The measure does not specify how these public funds will be used and provides no mechanism for evaluation or oversight. Its unintended consequences could be repaired only by passing another constitutional amendment.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State opposes Amendment 3. It’s a very bad idea with serious consequences. The complete text of the amendment is available at http://www.sos.mo.gov/cmsimages/Elections/Petitions/2016-152.pdf
Our annual picnic was at the south picnic shelter in Shaw Park, Clayton, Mo, on October 2. One of our own Board members, Christine Guinther, was our speaker. Christine is Past President of the Missouri National Education Association, and spoke about Church/State issues relevant to a classroom teacher or principal.
On September 6, a Letter to the Editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch was published, advocating taxpayer support for special needs education in Catholic schools. (Click link to read).
Our response (below) appeared in the 9/10 edition. Unfortunately, they omitted my affiliation with AU:
While it could be true, as Lisa Wilson writes (Taxes could help Catholic Schools educate special needs students, September 6), that all it takes to educate special needs students is “willingness and money”, there are many who would say that other things are also required. If Catholic schools are willing to provide special education, there seems to be little evidence of it. However, it is indisputable that religious schools would like to use public tax dollars, preferably without the need to meet state standards. There are excellent reasons why diversion of public money to religious institutions is not allowed. One of the best is in the Missouri Constitution, Article 1, Section 7: “…no money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect or denomination of religion, or in aid of any priest, preacher, minister or teacher thereof, as such; and that no preference shall be given to nor any discrimination made against any church, sect or creed of religion, or any form of religious faith or worship.” Of course, this section of our state constitution is consistent with the first amendment to the United States Constitution, which constitutes the basis for separation of church and state. While we are delighted that Mrs. Wilson is pleased with the education provided by the taxpayers to her son, we hope that she can find a Catholic church to provide the religious training that she greatly values.
Creve Coeur, MO
Vice-President, St. Louis Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State
Those of us who care about separation of church and state, and about religious tolerance and accommodation in American life, often wish that knowledge of the beliefs of the major religions could be taught in schools, to lay the foundation for respect of alternative viewpoints. Linda K. Wertheimer (not the Linda Wertheimer from NPR) describes in Faith Ed a number of attempts to do just that, from her own experience in fourth grade with “The Church Lady”, a well-meaning lay teacher of weekly Christian lessons in the public schools of rural Ohio, to many unsuccessful and a few effective programs from Massachusetts to Texas, Florida, Kansas, and California. Teaching this subject in a community suspicious of minority religions, and especially Islam, is full of pitfalls. Wertheimer describes many of them, and a few programs that have proved effective. This book is highly recommended for parents, teachers, and school administrators who might be considering such a program. While AU vigorously opposes proselyting in public schools, teaching about religion is both constitutional and desirable, if it can be accomplished in a fair and evenhanded way. It can be done, as has been demonstrated in the public schools of Modesto, California. The book is Faith Ed: Teaching About Religion in an Age of Intolerance, by Linda K. Wertheimer, Beacon Press 2015, 978-0-8070-5527-4.
We are pleased to announce that the St. Louis Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State provided a free forum to leaders of religious organizations about what the law allows them to do, or precludes them from doing, with regard to political support for candidates and issues. Religious organizations that have tax-exempt status risk losing those privileges if they transgress the law. The forum was held at the Mid-County Library in Clayton on September 1, 2016 (just in time for the election!) at 7:00p. Information was by our President, Cynthia Holmes, and distinguished attorney Leonard Frankel (pictured left). This was not be a MeetUp event, because we are targeting religious leaders rather than our own membership.
This timely subject is the cover story and the editorial of the June issue of Church and State. Click on those links to see the complete articles. Franklin Graham’s most recent foray into unconstitutional use of tax-exempt funds for political purposes is described briefly in the July/August issue.